24 July 2019 14:07

Turkey has a 'refugee policy problem' not a refugee problem

Rather than a 'refugee problem', Turkey has a 'refugee policy problem'! And the basic source of this problem is the AKP administration.

Photograph: Evrensel

İhsan Çaralan

The 'refugee problem' has been one of the main political issues since the start of the civil war in Syria.

As the opposition parties, pivoting their politics on nationalist groupings and exploitation of nationalism, have been incapable of criticizing the AKP government’s Syria policy, they have trained their sights on refugees forced to seek shelter in Turkey out of fear for their lives.

However, refugees constitute the most innocent and wronged party to this debate. But the ruling and opposition parties of capital which perceive exploitation of the people’s most reactionary feelings to be the easy political route have opted to engage in politics by blaming refugees for popular discontent over such economy and law and order-related matters as unemployment, high rents, molestation, robberies and muggings.

For its part, the AKP took this exploitation a step further. It turned itself into the “defender of all the world’s downtrodden” and “Islam’s standard bearer and saviour.” The truth, though, is different.


So as to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, Erdoğan and the AKP launched the propaganda of having “established five-star camps” for refugees when there was not yet a serious flow of refugees, calculating on overthrowing the Assad regime under pressure from refugees. Based on this calculation, an “open door” policy was essentially followed and every refugee coming to Turkey was accepted. It subsequently came to light that ISIS and various jihadi terrorist groups had also been merrily coming and going through this “open door!”

So, how were the civilian and innocent refugees who entered across the border received? An identity card was thrust into their hands and they were told, “Look out for yourselves” be they elderly, children or women. Dispersing into 81 provinces, the refugees were thrust into the battle for life in the true sense of the word.

Well, what did the opposition do? Even ignoring the purpose of the government’s propaganda about having spent forty billion dollars on refugees, it blamed these forty billion dollars that had been spent on refugees for dragging Turkey into economic crisis. Opting for the easy way out, refugees were thereby turned into a target.

Recent years have seen the “refugee policy” that was orchestrated to overthrow the Assad regime turned into a bargaining issue with the EU. Each insoluble problem that presents itself is countered with the issuing of threats, “Look out, we’ll fill planes with refugees and send them to Paris and Berlin.” It has become the AKP regime’s most stable bargaining chip in its relations with the EU!

Indeed, just the day before yesterday, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu threatened the EU saying, “If Turkey does not pursue this business with decisiveness, no government in Europe can last six months. We just advise you not to try our patience.”

This is a bargaining policy that, while thrusting refugees into poverty in Turkey and casting them between the cogs of the wheel of capitalist exploitation, has led to thousands drowning the Aegean waters.


In short, the AKP government’s “refugee problem” was first instigated by the AKP to legitimize the overthrowing of the Assad regime by portraying it in the eyes of the world as a regime that oppresses its own people and was a subterfuge that enabled Erdoğan to proclaim himself “the defender of the rights of the downtrodden” and “Islam’s saviour.” Refugees were then used as a threat in resolving issues with the EU. And, finally, turning refuges into a cheap labour force, they were made into grist to the mill of exploitation by industry and the land rich.

Despite having used refugees in this way for the intervening seven or eight years (with the opposition’s additional aid), the ruling party saw in the last elections that its refugee policy was not the hit it had once been. So, the AKP regime changed its patter. Interior Minister Soylu announced, “New refugees will not be admitted to Istanbul,” “Refugees who commit crimes and are illicit will be returned to their countries” and “Refugees will be encouraged to return to their countries.” The way was also thereby paved for an environment of oppression and provocation that took the abuse directed by nationalist groupings towards refugees to the verge of a lynch regime.


The Interior Minister’s pronouncements have left refugees, already in a precarious position, unable to come onto the street and go to work.

The report that our colleagues Ercüment Akdeniz, Hasret Kanat and Meltem Akyol made the day before yesterday and carried the headline, “Refugees trapped at home and in workshops” in our paper was further confirmation of this development. The report gives a detailed account of the stage reached by the difficulties engulfing refugees.

In short, a refugee population whose numbers have reached the millions is living in Turkey. Rather than a “refugee problem,” Turkey has a “refugee policy problem!” And the basic source of this problem is the AKP administration. Moreover, today, the parties of capital from ruling to opposition have united around “sending the refugees back.” What this means is a further increase in the trauma and difficulties that refugees experience.

Consequently, urgent tasks befall the forces of democracy, rights advocates and especially trade unions. Heading these tasks is the raising of such demands as:

  • Providing refugees with conditions whereby they can live like humans,
  • Making the necessary arrangements for those who wish to stay in Turkey to work and earn their living under the same conditions as Republic of Turkey citizens, and
  • Providing those who want to go to other countries with the necessary support.

Undoubtedly, these tasks also encompass opposing hostility towards refugees and provoked chauvinist and racist attacks, and enlightening the people.

It must not be forgotten that, if a portion of the refugees return to their countries (or if a portion go to Europe), the large majority are destined to stay in Turkey. And refugee workers will be and have succeeded in becoming part of our working class.

For this reason, too, it is crucial to end the competition between refugee workers and local workers starting with ensuring that they work equipped with equal rights and develop class fraternity.

(Translated by Tim DRAYTON)