May 23, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 9977

Turkish Mayor Addresses Syrians: 'Our Youth Are Unemployed, Our Families Are Living Under The Poverty Line... We Have No Bread Or Water To Share With You... You Are No Longer Wanted – Go Back To Your Country!'

May 23, 2022
Syria, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 9977

On May 18, 2022, billboards that Tanju Özcan, mayor of the Turkish city of Bolu repreesenting the opposition CHP, had put up around the city became a subject of controversy in Turkey. Bolu is located near Istanbul in northwestern Turkey and in 2019 had a population of 233,379 people.[1] The billboards read at the top in Turkish: "Last Call From The Municipal Government Of Bolu To The Temporary Asylum Seekers." Below that, in Arabic and Turkish, the billboards read: "I am calling out to the temporary asylum seekers: You said 11 years ago that you came to our country as guests. The Turkish nation has been looking after you for years with its sparse resources. Now this hospitality has gone on for too long. You can see the economic crisis in our country. Our youth are unemployed, our families are living under the poverty line. Under these conditions, we have no bread or water to share with you. As you have come, it is time for you to leave. You are no longer wanted. Go back to your country! – Tanju Özcan, Mayor of Bolu, Republic of Turkey." About the billboards, Özcan wrote on social media: "We said it and wrote it many times in Turkish. They did not understand. We have now written it in a language that that both the government and the invaders will understand. Enough is enough."[2]

The billboards hung up around the city of Bolu.

On May 19, the Public Prosecutor's Office of Turkey ordered the billboards to be taken down for being "hateful" and "divisive." Özcan described what he had done instead as "really loving the Turkish nation" and said: "If this constitutes a hate crime, I am going to continue commiting this hate crime, this crime of divisiveness!"[3] As of April 2022, the official number of Syrian refugees in Turkey was 3.7 million.[4] One source reports the total number of refugees in other countries around the world to be about 3.1 million. If that number is accurate, it means that Turkey hosts more Syrian refugees than the rest of the world combined.[5]

In August 2021, Özcan made headlines when he said: "The Syrians are about 30 years behind us [Turks]. The Iraqis are the same. But the Afghans are 100 years behind us." He went on to say: "It is strange; an Afghan molests a 15-year-old girl. He doesn't even realize it. Because in Afghanistan they marry off nine-year-old girls. Ten-year-olds, 12-year-olds... The nine and ten year old girls to whom we say affectionately 'my dear little one, my child,' they look at as a potential wife. How can you integrate them into society? Have you ever thought about this?... The man has only seen women in burqas. Now it is even strange to him when he sees a woman whose face is showing. It is not possible to provide social integration. The men have done nothing but fight since they were seven years old. They fought with the neighboring village, with the neighboring tribe, with the neighboring clan."[6]

A billboard in the city of Bolu.

Immigration into Turkey, particularly of Syrians but more recently of Afghans and Pakistanis as well, is a fiercely debated topic in the country that will be addressed in a follow-up report.


[1], accessed May 20, 2022.

[2], May 18, 2022.

[3], May 19, 2022.

[4], May 20, 2022.

[5], accessed may 20, 2022.

[6], August 18, 2021.

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