New Istanbul mayor says Syrians cannot change city’s colour

Istanbul mayor-elect Ekrem İmamoğlu said on Wednesday that Turkey should protect the interests of its own people against increasing refugee population, adding that Syrians could not be allowed to change the colour of the city recklessly.

İmamoğlu, who was elected in a rerun vote on June 23 and is set to take office on Friday, will oversee Turkey’s most populous city and province, which is home to nearly 550,000 Syrians, according to official figures. 

“The issue of refugees is a severe trauma,” İmamoğlu said to Habertürk’s Didem Aslan in his first television interview since winning on Sunday. 

“It has come to a level that threatens people’s incomes. There are many Syrians that work unregistered,” he said. “We have to protect our people’s interests. They cannot change Istanbul’s colour recklessly.

Aslan said that Syrians had established ghettos in some of Istanbul’s districts. İmamoğlu pledged to work for humanitarian problems of Syrians and said that he would work together with the governor and Turkish police against what he said that had become a serious public order problem.

Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, who do not have official refugee status but are under temporary protection. Syrians must apply for work permits, apart from jobs in agriculture, and firms employing Syrians cannot pay less than the minimum wage, according to the law. 

The issue of Syrians was at the centre of local polls in March in Turkey, while several reports and interviews with ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters in Istanbul’s conservative districts indicated that frustration against Syrians drove a shift in favour of İmamoğlu on June 23.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday that up to 1 million Syrians would return home after Turkey established a safe zone in northern Syria along the Turkish border. 

Many in Turkey object to the Syrians’ presence, and further tensions have been fuelled in part by viral reports – often fake – of misdeeds by refugees, as well as inaccurate reports on the benefits offered them by the Turkish government.