The mayor of İstanbul has described the country’s most populous city as the “center of tragic migration,” saying the city currently hosts 2.5 million foreigners, a figure bigger than the population of 72 of Turkey’s provinces.
İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu said there are currently 2.5 million foreigners in the city who are asylum seekers, refugees or legal residents. He said the number of foreign residents in the city has seen a dramatic rise over the past six or seven years.
İmamoğlu’s remarks came at an event held by the İstanbul Municipality to mark the 60th anniversary of Turkey’s labor force agreement with Germany.
İmamoğlu said the world must address income inequality and poverty as well as conflicts and wars such as the Syrian civil war, which has forced the displacement of millions of people.
The Interior Ministry on Monday issued a statement saying the figures shared by İmamoğlu were wrong. According to the ministry there are 644,726 foreigners living in İstanbul with residence permits. A total of 535,025 Syrian refugees who were granted temporary protection reside in İstanbul, and the city hosts an additional 2,406 foreigners with “conditional refugee” status, bringing the total number of foreigners to 1,182,157.
İstanbul has a population of some 16 million, and most people who have fled the civil war in Syria and taken refuge in Turkey are living in the already populous city, where they have a higher chance of finding jobs.
The European Council and Turkey reached an agreement in March 2016 aimed at stopping the flow of irregular migration via Turkey to Europe. According to the EU-Turkey deal, all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers arriving from Turkey in the Greek islands and whose applications for asylum had been declared inadmissible are returned to Turkey. The EU pledged €3 billion for 2016-2017 and another €3 billion for 2018-2019 to Turkey as its part of the deal.
According to UNHCR Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide. The country is currently home to some 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees along with close to 320,000 persons of concern from other nationalities.