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CHP mayoral candidate draws ire with discriminatory remarks toward refugee children

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A candidate for mayor of a district in Ankara from the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) has attracted criticism for discriminatory remarks he made about refugee children while campaigning for the March local elections, Turkish media reported on Friday.

Veli Gündüz Şahin, the party’s Mamak district mayoral candidate, encountered children on the street while campaigning for the March 31 local elections. “Aren’t these kids from Iraq?” he asked the people around him.

Upon confirming that they were indeed from Iraq, he said, “These children will become a major problem for our country when they grow up.”

A statement by Şahin that he will send “these people” back to their homeland was met with applause.

After facing criticism for his statements, Şahin issued a written statement to the press apologizing and claiming that his remarks were misunderstood.

“I am deeply saddened to be brought into the spotlight in connection with such an issue. … It is well known that my party … opposes policies that lead to migration, not the migrants themselves,” he said.

“I extend my sincere apologies to everyone who cares about this matter, especially to our children who were there [to hear my remarks],” he added, referring to the refugee children he targeted.

The CHP is a member of Socialist International, an international organization of political parties that seek to establish democratic socialism. The social democratic party includes as members controversial figures such as Tanju Özcan, mayor of the northwestern province of Bolu, who is known for his anti-refugee rhetoric.

Özcan was expelled from the party in July amid his calls for a change in leadership to replace the party’s former chairman, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Following the election of Özgür Özel as the party’s leader in early November, the CHP decided to allow Özcan to return to the party.

Özcan will run again in Bolu as the CHP’s mayoral candidate in the March local elections.

During his campaign for the presidential election in 2023, Kılıçdaroğlu also talked many times about the need to send Syrian refugees back home, saying Turkey’s refugee issue wasn’t a problem of “race” but of “resources.”

In a similar development, Ümit Özdağ, leader of the far-right, anti-refugee Victory Party (ZP), targeted refugees during a party event to announce its mayoral candidates in Bursa and Yalova provinces earlier this month.

Emphasizing that a prolonged stay is a burden to the host, the ZP leader said they would make the cities they run les attractive to migrants. He added that his party would provide municipal services such as transportation and water usage to refugees at higher fees than those for Turkish citizens.

“Turkey is not the world’s amusement park. Turkey is the homeland of the Turkish nation,” Özdağ said.

He noted that his party would continue to fight against what he calls the “silent invasion” of over 13 million refugees and undocumented individuals in Turkey.

According to UNHCR, Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide. The country is currently home to some 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees.

Refugees in Turkey are frequently targeted by Turkish politicians, who hold them responsible for the social and economic problems in the country. The anti-Syrian rhetoric has gained momentum, especially during the May 14 elections and the May 28 presidential runoff.

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