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İmamoğlu slams Europe for migration policy amid large refugee presence in İstanbul

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İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu has criticized Europe and Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government over their refugee policy, saying the refugee population in İstanbul has reached an unmanageable level, Deutsche Welle Turkish edition reported.

İmamoğlu, a member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), spoke during an event on Thursday at a Turkish entrepreneur’s restaurant in Düsseldorf, where he met with members of the European Confederation of Turkish Businessmen (ATİAD).

“There are nearly 2.5 million refugees in İstanbul. … It is almost 17 to 18 percent of the official population of 16 million. … This is not right. It is unfair to both the refugees and to İstanbulites,” the mayor said. He added that the exact number of irregular migrants in Turkey is unknown.

İmamoğlu criticized Europe for keeping migrants in countries bordering the EU, such as Turkey, and said the “wrong” policies of Europe and the Turkish government lie at the root of the refugee issue, which has become a “global problem.”

Saying that the underlying cause of the refugee problem could be hunger, thirst, climate crisis or war, the mayor stated that the countries which should focus on the solution of these problems are instead negotiating with Turkey for refugees.

“And the Turkish government has also failed this test,” he added.

İmamoğlu, who was re-elected on March 31 and is seen as one of the strongest political rivals of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, also criticized Erdoğan and his AKP government for having triggered migration to Turkey, especially from Syria and Iraq, by interfering with the internal affairs of those countries in a way that contradicts Turkey’s view of foreign relations.

Turkey and EU signed a “statement of cooperation” in March 2016, which was designed to halt irregular migration from Turkey to the Greek islands. Under the agreement, migrants arriving irregularly could be returned to Turkey. In exchange, for every Syrian sent back, an EU member state would resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey. Turkey was also promised 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) for refugee aid and the prospect of visa-free travel to Europe for its citizens.

Critics claims the agreement has resulted in a constant increase in the number of refugees in Turkey, allowing the Turkish government to use the refugees as a “bargaining chip” against 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.

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