Turkey closes to new immigrants the neighborhoods where they already add up to 20%

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An old man with slanted eyes and a beard as white as his turban is strolling slowly down Zeytinburnu Boulevard. With his hands behind his back, he looks like a cutout from the ancient Silk Road. In this neighborhood of European Istanbul, you have to rub your eyes so as not to believe you are in Central Asia. And the opposition has taken notice.

Immigration has become, along with inflation, his battle horse to try to unseat Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power in next year’s elections. The president has smelled the danger and is testing formulas that in the West would be branded as xenophobic, if not anti-Turkish.

For three months, the 751 neighborhoods and localities where immigrants exceed 25% of the population, do not accept new registrations of foreigners. The measure, which conditions the obtaining or renewal of residence, affects areas of Istanbul, Ankara or Izmir, but also smaller cities, in 16 provinces.

Not content with this, the Minister of the Interior, Süleyman Soylu, announced last week that the bar will be lowered to 20% from July 1, to cover 1,200 areas.

Zeytinburnu is a kind of Raval in Istanbul, where the last internet cafes survive, along with money transfer or exchange agencies, specialized gold jewelers and bakeries that bake bread like in Bukhara or Kunduz.

A Kazakh restaurant has just opened on the boulevard, with a portrait of its president shaking hands with Erdogan, in open competition with the multitude of Afghan restaurants, no less carnivorous, and with the Uyghurs, with handmade pasta, typical of Turkestan Chinese.

After a decade in Istanbul, Muhamad Ali has two shops and proudly displays his residence card, “valid indefinitely”. “Turkey only does it with us, the Uyghurs,” he says.

Syrians are very numerous in some outlying neighborhoods and in historic Istanbul. In Zeytinburnu they never abounded and “now they don’t have shops anymore,” Ali explains quietly. “They have problems to work and renew the residence.”

Interior has promised them another twist. Syrian “refugees” who set foot back in their country will no longer be able to return. If they can celebrate the Feast of the Lamb in the village, they argue, they are not “refugees.” And those who arrive from pacified Damascus will be “immediately deported”.

Refugee in quotes because, unlike the EU, Turkey has never granted them such a status, thus exempting itself from the associated obligations.

They are “brothers”, they say – Sunnis, like Erdogan’s voters – and “guests”. The leader of the opposition, no less fraternal, says that if he wins he will return them “with drums and trumpets to Syria, in less than two years.”

This does not mean that Ankara will give up the leverage that its position gives it, as the natural – or sought after – crossroads of migratory flows.

Dozens of Muslim nationalities coexist in neighborhoods like Zeytinburnu

Nobody flies to more African destinations than Turkish Airlines. Ten days ago, Yusuf boarded a plane in Senegal as a tourist and today he is a street vendor. He intends to reach the EU, “but they ask for at least one million CFA francs (1,525 euros) to cross. I will have to sell a lot of straps.”

Surkhan, a Kazakh waiter, explains that his thing is computers and his dream, “USA. or Japan.” The most satisfied with his fate are the Afghans of Turkmen and Uzbek roots. Not so the Hazaras, Shiites, who barely stop in Turkey.

The Turkmen Harun recognizes, in his civic association full of Turanian flags, that the Pashtuns or Tajiks have it “more difficult” to obtain the papers. “And to marry a Turkish, impossible.”

In this urban patch that was synonymous with a lack of planning, the roads have been paved. Central Asian children wearing bonnets leave the madrasa. Soon they will inaugurate a new and solid mosque.

Breweries have not disappeared, but they have been censored. Its interior is invisible and its exterior is blue and identical, like tobacco packages.

A doctor, an example of a westernized Turkish woman, does not hide her disgust. “This is Islamization through the back door.”

In full view, Zeytinburnu’s sewing workshops bustle on many ground floors with immigrant labor.

Turkey claims to have repatriated “half a million Syrians”. But the number of “refugees” never falls below 3.6 million, due to their high birth rate.

Brussels has just allocated 50 million euros more for its maintenance and is torn between recognition and the feeling of blackmail.

In any case, the growing resistance of the Turks to serving as a corridor for irregular immigration from half the world is the best safeguard for Europe’s borders.

Even the announced fourth Turkish military operation in northern Syria, in Tal Rifat and Manbij, will be sold to voters as freeing up space for repatriations.

A thousand kilometers of wall have been erected on the border with Iran. Likewise, last Saturday, five hundred undocumented Afghans were deported to Kabul on three charter flights. In nine days, there have been 1,200.

The opposition hopes to profit from runaway inflation and mistrust of Syrian refugees

In this hand, Turkey also has an advantage. No one can accuse you of Islamophobia.

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