Turks increasingly favouring return of Syrian refugees, military offensive – Washington Post

Opinion polls conducted in Turkey in 2014 and 2019 show a shift in public opinion against Syrian refugees living in the country and in favour of cross-border military actions, according to an article by the Washington Post.

Over 80 per cent of Turks want to send back the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Washington Post said citing a July 2019 poll.

The resettlement of up to two million Syrian refugees in the safe zone to be established in northern Syria has been a major point of emphasis for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and government officials as they sought support for a military incursion into Kurdish-held Syrian territory.

Turkey has hosted an increasing number of refugees since the beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2011, with public opinion turning significantly negative in time as refugees started to settle in provinces outside the border regions.

The change in attitude toward refugees could have been affected by refugees moving from the less densely-populated border provinces they were first settled in to most cities in Turkey, and the number of refugees almost quadrupling from 2014 to 2019, Washington Post said.

A 2014 study by the Washington Post in southeast Turkey found support for use of force to establish a safe zone to be at 34 per cent, while a 2019 poll by Istanbul’s Kadir Has University showed over 51 per cent in support of a cross-border operation into Syria.

Support for military operations when respondents were presented with positive or negative information related to refugees changed with the respondents’ proximity to the border, Washington Post said. 

Those living farther from the border tended to show more support when presented with information that some refugees could have connections to Syrian rebel groups, while those near border areas under immediate risk of fallout from military actions did not show such an increase.

Opinion polls before and after the local elections in Istanbul this year showed dissatisfaction with the refugees policies of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) being a major factor in voters turning away from the party, which resulted in the AKP losing Istanbul and several major cities in the country.

Permits for refugees in Istanbul have since been tightened, with many being ordered to leave as they were officially registered in other provinces.

Support for sending the refugees to the safe zone to be established in Syria, despite international opposition and concerns over demographic shifts in the region, is popular in Turkey, Washington Post said.

According to quesstions asked in the studies cited by the newspaper, the increase in support for a military intervention could also be affected by whom the offensive would target. 

In the Washington Post study of 2014, the participants were asked about a military intervention against Syria’s President Bashar Assad, while Turkey’s current operation has focused on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a majority-Kurdish group that Turkey considers to be the Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).