05:47 GMT +325 September 2018
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    In this June 14, 2015 file photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, thousands of Syrian refugees walk in order to cross into Turkey

    Pundits Suggest Turkey to Use Syrian Refugees as Political 'Tool' in Elections

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    About 30,000 Syrian refugees who have obtained Turkish citizenship will be able to cast their vote in the upcoming elections in Turkey on June 24, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said.

    "There are a certain number of Syrian nationals who have received Turkish citizenship, and 30,000 of them have the right to vote. How many of them will use it, I do not know," Yildirim told NTV channel.

    According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Turkey today hosts the largest number of refugees from different countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Somalia.

    At the moment, 3.9 million refugees are living in Turkey, of whom 3.6 million are Syrians. Sputnik discussed with Turkish experts the impact that the Syrian refugees with Turkish citizenship can have on the results of the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.

    Erdogan Toprak, a Turkish MP from the main opposition party, namely the Republican People's Party (CHP), told Sputnik that the government is using Syrian refugees to their advantage in order to attract additional votes.

    “The government doesn't rely on large-scale support of the Turkish people anymore and decided to use the Syrian refugees in their political interests by giving them the right to vote in the elections. I consider this an unacceptable step. Only the Turkish population should make key decisions regarding the governance of the country,” Toprak stressed.

    Mr. Toprak also suggested that the Syrian refugee figures released by the government are deliberately understated: “I believe that their number is much greater. However, real data is not brought to the attention of the public; the counting and analysis of this information is carried out behind closed doors.”

    For his part, the head of the Association of Solidarity With Refugees, Eda Bekçi, told Sputnik that the use of refugees as a tool in the electoral process poses is a serious problem for the Turkish society. According to Bekçi, all the Syrian refugees living in Turkey are provided with temporary protection, but the temporary protection regime is solely a government initiative.

    “Despite the fact that the regime, as its name implies, should formally be a temporary phenomenon, unfortunately, for the 7-year period of its validity and was not given a clear definition of the concept of “temporary.” The Council of Ministers, which considers the fate of the refugees, has authority in this issue from the standpoint of political power. To date, unfortunately, the criteria which the authorities use to decide whether refugees are returned to their country, sent to the buffer zone, whether they will receive citizenship or whether their applications for international protection will be accepted, and so on. Such an uncertain situation and the absence of permanent legal regulation are used by both the ruling party and the opposition as sort of an instrument during the electoral period. Depending on what is required, these people can be either scapegoats or become an additional source of votes.”

    Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during an Iftar, the evening meal breaking the Ramadan fast, at his palace in Ankara, Turkey, Saturday, May 19, 2018
    © AP Photo / Presidential Press Service/Pool
    While only Turkish citizens are eligible to vote in the upcoming elections, Bekçi noted that there is no data on the exact number of people who have received citizenship.

    “Authorities shy away from disclosing accurate data, in most cases using the security issue as a pretext. The criteria for obtaining citizenship remain vague. In particular, some Syrians who live in the border areas appealed to the courts in order to obtain citizenship, and their requests were satisfied due to the fact that they have blood relatives in Turkey. Those who have long lived and worked in Turkey, were able to obtain citizenship after a certain period of time. Some got citizenship at the invitation of the state, but what criteria were applied here we do not know. We do not know their exact number, nor who and why was chosen. We advocate that the policy of granting citizenship to refugees should be based on uniform, clearly defined criteria throughout the country,”Bekçi concluded.

    Turkish citizens will cast their votes during the presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday. The elections will determine whether President Recep Tayyip Erdogan retains his post.

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    Tags:
    tool, citizenship, elections, refugees, Association of Solidarity With Refugees, Turkish Republican People's Party (CHP), Eda Bekçi, Erdogan Toprak, Turkey
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