By Middle East Affairs
Responding to growing unease among worried Turks who fear for the economic stability of their country, President Erdogan and his rival have both campaigned on a platform to send refugees home.
Since the start of the Syrian war, more than 3.5 million refugees have settled in Turkey, they have become a hot-button topic in this election cycle. Some Turks consider refugees to be a threat to jobs and a burden on the Turkish economy, which has received E.U funding to absorb refugees.
In a recent campaign speech in Gaziantep, President Erdogan said, “Right after the election we aim to make all Syrian lands safe, starting from areas near our border, and to facilitate the return home of all our guests.”
“But to do this we need to get through June 24 (election day) safely. Syria’s stability is dependent on Turkey being strong. Otherwise, they will break Syria to pieces,” he said.
The president has also said that 200,000 Syrians have already left Turkey and returned back to northern Syrian, which is now controlled by Turkey and allied Syrian rebels following the takeover from the Turkish military who forced Kurdish fighters to leave the area after securing it from ISIS.
Securing a large enough region of Syria to absorb the remaining three million refugees would be a far bigger challenge to Turkey and force them to confront regional powers Russia and Iran.
In the Turkish city of Gaziantep which is 50 km from the Syrian border, it is estimated that 383,000 Syrians reside there making up nearly 20 percent of the population.
The International Crisis Group reported that violence between Turks and Syrians tripled in the latter half of 2017 in major cities over issues concerning inter-ethnic rivalry, economic inequality, and urban violence.
On Sunday, Turkish people will vote in twice in a presidential and parliamentary election. Up until now, polls have shown the election to be closer than was originally expected. Many predict that the president will call for a run-off election in July to ensure his winning chances after polls show his AK party to lose its majority for the first time since its creation.
President Erdogan, main opponent in the presidential race Muharrem Ince of the main opposition CHP’s has also promised Turks that he would send Syrians back home.
Late on Thursday in one of the final stops on his campaign rally, Ince promised to improve relations with Syrian President Assad and appoint a new ambassador to Syria all within his first ten days in office.
He told the almost one million people gathered in Izmir to hear him speak that, “With peace policies, we will send four million Syrians to Syria with the sound of drums and pipes.”
His campaign platform has not given details as to how he would improve relations with Assad or how he would force millions of Syrian refugees to go back home under such dangerous conditions.
Since the start of the Syrian war, President Erdogan has demanded President Assad to step down for the good of the people and supported rebel fighters. He has however worked Assad’s allies Russia and Iran to ensure that the bloodshed in Syria finishes.
Turkey first opened its border to Syrian refugees in 2011 but has since reversed its “open door” policy to its “Syrian brothers and sisters” and has, in fact, built a 911 km wall along the border.