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İstanbul mayor slams Europe for Gaza, refugee policies during Europe Day event

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İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu criticized Europe’s refugee policy and its lack of adequate response to the Israeli war on the Palestinian enclave of Gaza during an early celebration on Wednesday for Europe Day, the T24 news website reported on Tuesday.

İmamoğlu, a member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who is seen as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strongest rival, on Tuesday hosted an event to celebrate May 9, Europe Day, at İstanbul’s Haliç Congress Center.

Europe Day celebrates “peace and unity in Europe.” It is marked on May 5 by the Council of Europe and on May 9 by the European Union. Turkey is an EU candidate country whose membership talks with the bloc have been frozen for years.

The event was attended by business and political figures and representatives of many EU countries, including Ambassador Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, head of the European Union Delegation to Turkey, in addition to members of the press.

İmamoğlu used his speech at the event to criticize European governments for failing to take sufficient action to stop the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza. He said this failure shows that Europe cannot promote its humanitarian values consistently when the lives of people in other countries are at risk.

The Gaza Strip is suffering a humanitarian crisis caused by Israel’s war against Hamas that has been raging since October 7, with the United Nations and aid agencies warning of impending famine.

The war started with Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the death of roughly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and some 250 people taken hostage.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 34,700 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry, and has devastated the Gaza Strip.

“Shouldn’t the massacre of tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians, including women and children, before the eyes of the whole world be criticized and condemned with a louder voice?” İmamoğlu said.

Turkey is one of the most outspoken critics of Israel’s war on Gaza, accusing the Israeli government of committing “war crimes” and a “genocide” in the enclave.

The mayor also criticized police interventions in pro-Palestinian protests in some European countries, saying it calls into question Europe’s character as “a universal peace project based on democratic values.”

Calling on Europe and all countries that care about human values to react more strongly against Israel, İmamoğlu said what has been going on in Gaza has become a “black stain” in the history of humanity.

The mayor also criticized Europe for its policy of keeping migrants in countries bordering the EU, such as Turkey, saying it paves the way for the refugee issue to be used in populist and xenophobic political discourse and for right-wing authoritarianism to gain ground in Europe.

Turkey is still the leading host country for refugees worldwide, with nearly 3.6 million seeking shelter, mainly from war-torn Syria, according to the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) World Migration Report 2024, which was published Tuesday.

“A united and democratic Europe cannot be realized without Turkey’s participation,” the mayor underlined, adding that it is “unacceptable” that Turkey is not mentioned when discussing the EU’s enlargement policies and that the county’s 20-year membership process is ignored.

İmamoğlu further stated that the local elections in March, which saw the CHP emerge victorious after 47 years, relegating the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to second place for the first time in 22 years, had ended the democratic backsliding in Turkey.

Ambassador Meyer-Landrut also spoke at the event, noting that Turkey-EU relations are certainly not at the stage where they would like them to be.

“It is a complex, multifaceted relationship. However, Turkey is a candidate country; our relationship dates back decades and has proven resilient in the face of countless and unprecedented crises,” he added.

The ambassador also mentioned that İstanbul is participating in a new EU program to transform itself into a smart and climate-neutral city by the end of the decade.

Meyer-Landrut congratulated İmamoğlu on his re-election, saying his leadership has been “instrumental” in promoting their cooperation.

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