by Leo Kendrick
Following a five-hour cabinet meeting on Thursday evening, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a lengthy statement that addressed Turkey’s ongoing refugee crisis, in addition to a litany of other issues.
In a speech that also covered the recent wildfire and flooding events, ongoing vaccination efforts, school reopening, and new measures for unvaccinated individuals, the President articulated in explicit terms Turkey’s opposition to being a landing spot for the waves of migrants emanating from Afghanistan. The president had previously said in a statement on August 6th that Turkey would continue to take in refugees, and that they were managing their “financing” well.
Recent events, both domestically and abroad, have necessitated a more hard-line refugee stance on the part of the president. Regarding ongoing efforts to secure Turkey’s eastern borders, the president remarked that: “We have sped up efforts to ensure the security of our borders. Especially on our border with Iran, we are nearing the completion of a wall, canal, and electronic control system.” Erdoğan also mentioned that capacity has been increased at deportation facilities and that 300,000 Afghans currently reside in Turkey, 180,000 of whom are documented, and 120,000 of whom have no legal status in the country. These numbers, the president said, are far lower than the population of 1.5 million Afghans claimed by members of the opposition.
Saying “Turkey is not simply an ownerless country that people can pass through as they please,” Erdoğan’s speech also addressed the topic of Syrian refugees residing in Turkey. Regarding their long-term status in Turkey, the president said that while many have successfully learned Turkish and integrated themselves, those who have failed to do so may be sent back to Syria as conditions in the country normalize. Erdoğan also mentioned that the Syrians involved in the killing of a Turkish citizen in a knife fight in Ankara’s Altındağ last week would also be punished to the full extent of the law.
Events in recent weeks, including the unrest in Altındağ, the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, and the ongoing stream of Afghan migrants across Turkey’s eastern border, may have contributed to this harder-line rhetoric by the president, whose previous comments on the refugee issue had fallen under criticism, especially by opposition parties seeking to capitalize on rising anti-refugee sentiments across the country.