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Perspectives from Turkey: The Upcoming U.S. Election and the Refugee Crisis

Published in IFD Newsletter Vol.1-Issue2-10/28/20. In the inaugural Thoughts on Forced Displacement Original, Gulay Kaplan (IFD SIGE Summer 2020 Participant) brings attention to the influence of the refugee crisis on nationalist rhetoric surrounding elections in the USA, the E.U. and even Turkey, her home country. Read on below!


According to the most recent UNHCR report, one percent of the world’s population is uprooted from their homes. That means around 80 million people are seeking resettlement in another country. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, says that this is the highest number of refugees recorded in the UNHCR’s history. And yet, in the rhetoric of much world politics, nationalism is thought to be the charm that brings in votes.

The refugee crisis has contributed to the nationalistic rhetoric being used in elections in the U.S. and E.U., even in Turkey. “Let’s make America great again” current U.S. President Trump said in his last election campaign. The E.U. imposed new restrictions and sent back boats that reached to its shores. The political parties of Turkey, a country hosting more than 6 million refugees, used biased language to describe refugees and regularly blames the west for not sharing the burden. Countries hosting most of the refugee populations are calculating the possible impact of the outcome of the upcomin U.S. elections.

I want to focus here on the unique case of Turkey, which has been a transit country for refugees for many decades. Turkey’s policies were never intended to provide for resettlement. During the Syrian refugee crisis, Turkey’s migration approach has changed from welcoming all with an “open door policy” to allowing refugees to cross the borders to the E.U.The shift in Turkey’s policy play is not only fixated on the number of refugees and the burden of them; it has more to it.

First, with the rising numbers of refugees, bias, hate-speeches, and fake news increased along with the revival of political parties using the expense and numbers of refugees to aggravate the public anger towards refugees. Second, Turkey considers itself to be an emerging power in the region; thus, a growing economy, rising military influence and active diplomacy are on display. Third, the right claims and activities of the Turkish military brought threats of sanctions from U.S. and E.U. countries.

Due to the recent reversal of economic growth and new regional power dynamics, Turkey was left alone to deal with local issues, security threats, as well as the rising number of refugees. Turkey’s Communications Director said that Turkey is preparing for irregular migration flow, calling on the E.U. and other countries to share this burden. The Turkish government repeatedly said, “Turkey has been left alone in this struggle,” and that is why Turkey opened the borders to the E.U.

In an interview, the Turkish presidency spokesperson said “Turkey’s president Erdogan has a good relationship with the U.S.’s current President Trump,“ despite the Islamophobic travel restrictions of the U.S. president. In an interview, the U.S. president said, “E.U. leaders call me to convince Turkish President Erdogan”, which can be considered a clear sign that the Turkish government favors the current U.S. president.

As for Trump’s challenger, Joe Biden, a video of Biden was published on social media featuring him talking about the possible overturn of Erdogan’s government and support of the opposition parties. Many Turkish government officials reacted with rigidness to his remarks and have shown no support of the U.S. presidential candidate Biden.

If Trump is reelected, he plans to cut U.S. refugee resettlement even more, which is already at record lows. Despite the Turkish government’s favoritism toward President Trump, will his refugee plan for his second term force Turkey to welcome more refugees, or will it reinforce Turkey’s desire to change regional power dynamics?

This is something to be observed.


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