Turkey’s far-right Victory Party has launched a fundraising campaign promising to spend the cash on bus tickets it says will be used to deport Syrian refugees.
"Ticket sales for Zafer Tourism's one-way trips to Damascus have begun," the party's chairman Umit Ozdag tweeted on Monday. Zafer is "victory" in Turkish.
Ozdag asked people to provide the name of Syrians they want deported, promising to "make the reservation".
Though the scheme is likely a gimmick to raise funds, the Victory Party promises to deport Syrian refugees within a year of assuming office.
Founded in August 2021 by Ozdag, the Victory Party has been known for creating a buzz on social media by campaigning against the presence of Syrian refugees.
The party has shared various videos of Ozdag visiting Syrian-owned or run businesses, asking the Syrians there to leave the country, often aggressively.
Ozdag also funded a popular dystopian movie called “Silent Invasion”, released on YouTube, which is set in a future Turkey where Arabs are the majority and Turks a minority within a federally governed banana state.
Turkey shelters over 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world's largest refugee-hosting country, along with close to 320,000 refugees from other nationalities, according to the UN. A decade on from the outbreak of the Syrian war, this has led to societal and political tensions.
Ozdag claims that there are 13 million refugees in Turkey without providing any proof.
Several Turkish opposition parties have promised to return Syrian refugees, but Ozdag has used the strongest language, vowing policies that go far beyond the UN parameters of voluntary and dignified return.
Ozdag’s latest campaign specifically targets two individuals, whose names were written on the bus tickets: Syrian-Turkish journalist Ahmet Hamo and Turkish columnist Nagehan Alci.
Ozdag in May threatened to cancel Hamo’s Turkish citizenship, if elected, because of his criticism of the Victory Party’s anti-refugee campaigns.
“Ahmet Hamo, you came from Syria. You have obtained illegal citizenship. Now you're going to teach us how to do politics? I promise, I will cancel your illegal citizenship and send you to seat number one with Zafer Tourism’s first expedition,” Ozdag tweeted at the time.
Hamo told Middle East Eye on Tuesday that he would take Ozdag to court over his campaign against him.
With Turkey due to hold presidential elections in June, many observers have speculated that Ankara is aiming to repair its relationship with Damascus to show voters that it can begin to return refugees.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, once the proud protector of the Syrian refugees, now promises to open the way for their return, at least to Turkish-controlled areas of northern Syria.
Alci, who has a well-known pro-refugee stance, said in an article on Tuesday that she was honoured to be targeted by the Victory Party, a far-right political movement she put on par with Italy's Georgia Meloni and France's Marine Le Pen.
“Turkey's immigration policy can and should be criticised, but demonising the immigrants who took refuge here to save their lives and promising to send them back by force, regardless of whether they are children, elderly or women, are clearly inhumane and contrary to basic human rights,” she wrote.
“Umit Ozdag wants to send both the tiny babies and the thousands of people who have lived here for 12 years and who speak Turkish better than Arabic to an unknown place by force, just because they have a Syrian identity.”
This approach is no different from Islamophobia demonising Muslims in the West, she argued.
Alci added that Ozdag is unable to change the fact that Syrians are now part of the Turkish society’s fabric and they will continue to be by becoming judges, doctors and entrepreneurs.