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'Syrians will go!' As Turkey's election runoff nears, refugees face new threats

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In the mobile game "Zafer Tourism," players catapult Syrian refugees scurrying into Turkey onto trucks to take them back from where they came.

"Protect your borders. Don't let them pass," says a description on the Google Play store.

The game, whose name refers to an anti-migrant campaign by the Turkish far-right Zafer (Victory) Party, was released by Turkish publisher Gacrux Game Studio in September but has since gained attention amid the tight election tussle between longtime Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Sunday's runoff is increasingly focused on the fate of the roughly 3.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

The first round saw Erdogan get 49.4% of the votes while Kilicdaroglu received 44.96%; a third contender, Sinan Ogan, a hard-right figure who has made sending refugees back a central theme of his campaign, made a surprisingly strong showing with 5.17%.

Now, the two remaining sides spend the days to the runoff courting ultranationalist voters they hope will give them the push to victory.

For populist Erdogan, 69, this has meant a switch from terming calls to repatriate Syrians as inhumane and contrary to Islamic values to a statement on CNN Turk on Tuesday emphasizing that his government had already sent back more than half a million Syrians, with more to follow.


For the soft-spoken Kilicdaroglu, 74 — he was billed as Turkey's Gandhi — it has meant replacing his nice-guy image with a sharp-elbowed persona meant to demonstrate how tough he can be on migrants.

"We will never, ever make Turkey a warehouse of refugees," Kilicdaroglu said in a campaign speech Tuesday in Hatay, the earthquake-hit province on Turkey's southern border with Syria, adding that people should act before "refugees take over the country."

That followed a Twitter campaign video released Saturday in which he said, "As if 10 million Syrians aren't enough, will you let 10-20 million more come?" (Before the first round, he had said the number of Syrians in the country was 3.7 million.)

Kilicdaroglu also vowed to repatriate Syrians as soon as he is elected — it's unclear if it would be on a voluntary basis — and renegotiate a 2016 deal with the European Union in which it paid Turkey billions of euros to thwart refugees from reaching European shores. His campaign posters, meanwhile, announce, "Syrians will go!"


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