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ANKARA: A plan by Turkey to limit the number of foreigners living in individual neighborhoods has raised fears of rising anti-immigrant sentiment in a society where anger towards refugees is already high amid growing economic hardship.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said last week that Turkey would apply a 25% quota for foreigners in each district. In areas where Syrians make up a quarter of the population, no new foreigners will be allowed to enter.

“If the number of foreigners in one neighborhood exceeds 25%, we will send them to other neighborhoods,” Soylu said.

Students, broken families and people in need of health care will be exempt from the new rule.

So far more than 4,500 Syrians are under threat of relocation out of Ankara’s Altindag neighborhood where they were attacked and harassed by angry mobs after a Syrian refugee murdered a local teenager last August.

No official clarification has been provided on where the migrants will be resettled.

The resettlement of Syrians from Altindag will serve as a “pilot project” for Turkish authorities planning to extend the quota system to other districts.

Soylu’s statement came the same day the Interior Ministry announced that more than 193,000 Syrians, including 84,000 children, had become Turkish citizens by the end of 2021. The number of registered Syrians under temporary protection stands at around 3.7 million.

Sinem Adar, associated with the Center for Applied Turkey Studies at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a Berlin-based think tank, said the new regulations come against a backdrop of anti- growing immigrants coupled with growing anger against the decision. AKP faced with the country’s economic crisis and governance deadlock.

“Since the 2019 municipal elections, we have seen a change from the AKP’s previous hospital policies towards refugees,” she told Arab News.

According to Adar, Syrian refugees have become a focal point in Turkey’s longstanding identity struggles, leading to a contentious debate against immigration.

“Rising anti-immigrant sentiments have partly been unleashed in the form of violent attacks on refugees, as was the case in Ankara last August and in Istanbul in January this year,” she said.

Police have arrested Turkish and Afghan suspects for the murder of a young Syrian refugee, Nail Al-Naif, in Istanbul. The victim was stabbed as he slept in his apartment.

Experts also say that migration management has been systematically used to gain support ahead of legislative and presidential elections scheduled by 2023.

In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said: “Turkey will send home the millions of Syrian refugees it hosts and restore diplomatic relations with President Bashar Assad if the ‘opposition alliance wins the elections’.

He added: “Migration has become one of the main drivers of political competition. The main opposition parties, such as the Republican People’s Party and the Good Party, have recently shifted their focus to government policy, and they strongly oppose Turkey’s hosting of increasing numbers of refugees and irregular migrants.

According to Adar, in the face of heavy criticism from the opposition, the government has also recognized the burden on the public by stepping up its criticism of the EU for its lack of support, by stepping up the discussion on the repatriation of Syrian refugees in northern Syria and opposing the hosting of Afghan refugees.

“The recent quota regulation is another attempt by the AKP government to contain growing popular discontent against the backdrop of growing political competition,” she said.

Adar said that in the face of Turkey’s growing economic crisis, public support for the AKP and its main supporter, the Nationalist Movement Party, is in sharp decline. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s approval ratings are also falling.

Metin Corabatir, chairman of the Asylum and Migration Research Center in Ankara, said Syrians are concentrated in certain neighborhoods because they are close to where they work.

“They live in the Altindag district of Ankara because it is close to the capital’s furniture-making center where they work informally,” he told Arab News.

Corabatir said political parties should not use the “refugee card” in a way to consolidate their electoral base.

“If they want to include migration management issues in their election campaign, they should focus on ways to further integrate these people into society. But so far no one has come up with a solution for local integration,” he said.

“These people, both foreigners and refugees, should stay in Turkey even after the elections. The best policy is to offer new avenues of employment, health and education rather than pledging to fire them or giving them only 48 hours to leave their home and find a new one in a new neighborhood” , he added.

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