Imamoğlu blames mismanagement for clashes between Turks and Syrians

The Turkish government has mismanaged the influx of millions of refugees, leading to clashes between Turks and Syrians in some areas of Istanbul, the city’s new mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu said in an interview the BBC posted online on Tuesday. 

Elected mayor of Turkey’s financial powerhouse on June 23, İmamoğlu last month took control of a city that had run by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its predecessors since 1994, when current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected mayor. 

According to analysts and interviews in districts of Istanbul where the AKP lost votes despite a strong base, voter frustration with Syrian refugees was an important factor in local polls.

Turkey is home to 3.6 million Syrian refugees, some 550,000 of which live in Istanbul, according to official figures.

“Turkey mismanaged the refugee issue,” İmamoğlu told Zeinab Badawi of BBC HARDtalk, adding that the real number of Syrians in Istanbul is close to one million. “Nowadays clashes have begun in Istanbul between refugees and people living there.” 

During his first television interview after becoming mayor, İmamoğlu said Syrians had taken so many jobs that they had begun to threaten the income of locals. “We have to protect our people’s interests,” he said. “They cannot change Istanbul’s colour recklessly.”

Badawi raised the issue with Istanbul’s mayor, quoting an Ahval op-ed directly: “in dismissing a significant portion of his city’s residents via rhetorical exclusion, the mayor risks fanning the flames of social unrest.” 

“You have done that, haven’t you?” asked Badawi. 

“This is a mistaken description,” İmmaoğlu responded, explaining that he sought to protect the rights of the refugees in Istanbul while developing a national and international solution to the issue. 

Badawi mentioned another İmamoğlu interview, in which he criticised Arabic signboards in Istanbul’s migrant-heavy districts. “This is Turkey. This is Istanbul,” he said.

“I have no problem with Arabic, I also have no problem with English,” he said. “But a country, a city has a character. If all signboards become written in another language, it will disturb this city and this country,” he said. 

According to Turkish law, at least 75 percent of signboards should be in Turkish. Following the recent clashes, Turkish authorities in Istanbul and other cities with large Syrian populations have begun inspections to find signboard violations.