terça-feira, 5 de abril de 2016
Return of refugees raises Turkish suspicions
Return of refugees raises Turkish suspicions
Many Turks believe the ruling party is housing refugees in towns that vote for its rivals.
By ALEV SCOTT 4/6/16, 5:32 AM CET
DIKILI, Turkey — Days before the first migrants were to be deported from Greece, residents of this coastal resort protested against rumored plans to build a holding camp on the outskirts of the town, a stronghold of Turkey’s main opposition party.
If the rumors were true, Ankara paid attention to the protests. The first group of deportees — 202 of them — disembarked from Greek ferries in the tiny port on Monday and locals watched as they were put on buses to be transported to Kirklaleri, a town near the Bulgarian border, 450 kilometers away.
This came as a great relief for the town of 17,000 people and its mayor, a member of the Republic People’s Party (CHP), whose representatives often complain of being ignored or kept in the dark on major decisions by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Dikili’s small rebellion underlines the skepticism of many Turks about Erdoğan’s pact with the EU to take in more refugees on top of the 2.7 million Syrians already registered in the country.
In Dikili, residents are convinced that the AKP government’s rumored plan to send them migrants from Europe was punishment for always voting for the opposition.
Mustafa Tosun, the town’s mayor, said Dikili was never officially designated to host refugees being returned to Turkey from Greece as part of an EU agreement that aims to curb the flow of migrants into Europe.
“I was never informed by the migration board [of their plans]. But we heard rumors, of course, and local business owners from the area got together to decide what to do,” Tosun said.
“We held a press conference to announce our objections,” he said, adding that people feared an influx of refugees would keep the tourists away, decimating Dikili’s main source of income.
Located in the Izmir region on Turkey’s Aegean coast, this staunchly secular town is not hiding its political sympathies: A large, bronze statue of General Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on horseback stands in the main square and his portrait graces every café and restaurant, where alcohol is freely sold and consumed.
“Why don’t they send the refugees to Konya?” said Özlem Tavukçuoğlu, a waitress in the popular Perla hotel near the beach, referring to the conservative town in Anatolia with strong support for the ruling party.
The first group of deportees was taken to Kirklaleri, another CHP stronghold in a traditionally secular area near Edirne, west of Istanbul, further deepening the opposition’s suspicions about being targeted. Tavukçuoğlu said she suspects the move is part of the government’s plan to populate opposition towns with refugees in order to change how people vote in the next municipal elections.
There are no official plans to grant citizenship to refugees, but Tavukçuoğlu’s theory is a common one.
“They want to hide these refugees away from media cameras so journalists can’t see them,” said Ali Burhan, a pensioner playing tennis near the Dikili seafront. “God help these refugees, they are really desperate. But how can we be expected to look after them all?”
For Erdoğan, taking in refugees, especially those Europe has rejected, is a matter of national pride for Turks. As migrants were landing in Dikili, Erdoğan struck a defiant tone in Ankara, lashing out at the EU for throwing out people in need.
“We didn’t turn our brothers from Syria away. But they hemmed these people in with razor wire,” Erdoğan said.
He devoted the greater part of Monday’s speech, however, to dismissing any possibility of negotiations with outlawed militant group the PKK, currently fighting against Turkish troops in the southeast of the country. The Kurdish group has also been linked to the recent suicide bombings in Ankara.
The renewed conflict with the Kurds is a pressing issue for the ruling party and the opposition. However, Turkish cities with a large refugee population and towns earmarked by the government to receive Syrians in the future fear that terrorists will move in along with refugee families.
Following reports that a camp for 27,000 Syrian refugees will be built in the town of Maraş, another opposition stronghold in southern Turkey, protests broke out.
“Our objection is not against refugees,” said Salman Akdeniz, the head of the Maraş branch of the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association. “We are just concerned about the designation of the camps and the fact that jihadi groups from ISIL and al-Nusra may come here and involve us in the Syrian civil war.”
‘Take the refugees and be quiet’
Turkey last month agreed to take back any illegal migrant arriving in Greece after March 20 in exchange for speeded-up visa liberalization for Turkish citizens traveling to the EU and progress on the country’s EU accession talks.
Süleyman Elma, a real-estate agent and part-time taxi driver in Dikili , was not convinced that Turkey will receive anything meaningful in exchange for taking the refugees. He said Europe was paying Ankara to “take the refugees and be quiet.”
Even the suggestion that Turks could be traveling without a visa to Europe as early as June was not enough. Besides, Elma said, “we should have visa-free travel anyway. These promises are irrelevant, if they are ever realized at all.”
Many critics of the AKP claim that the promise of visa-free travel is more of a domestic political coup for the AKP than a realistic possibility. Last month, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu called it “a 50, 60-year-old dream.”
Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, with President of the European Council, Donald Tusk and President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker | Carl Court/Getty Images
Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe and chairman of Istanbul-based think tank Edam, said the visa provision is the most vulnerable part of the deal as neither Europe nor Turkey seem to be able to fulfill the necessary conditions.
“On the Turkish side, much more is still needed for the country to fully comply with the 72 technical criteria set by the EU [for lifting visa requirements],” Ulgen said.
“As a result, a new crisis can emerge in June when the decision is due,” Ulgen said.
Human rights organizations have harshly criticized the migration deal, saying it violates international law. Although Turkey signed the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugee rights, it does not extend these rights to non-European refugees.
Ulgen said Turkey will not budge on this, especially since it has taken in 2.7 million Syrians since the war started five years ago.
“There is no benefit for a country that borders the Middle East and is exposed to the ongoing instability of this region to lift its geographical limitation,” Ulgen said. “Europe has not really demonstrated a willingness to do more in terms of burden sharing with Turkey, at least not until refugees started to find their way to Europe.”