Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu pledged Thursday to repatriate millions of migrants, seeking to win the support of hardline nationalists who helped push last weekend’s presidential elections into a second round.
The secular opposition leader made his first speech since Sunday’s historic election, in which he finished nearly five points behind President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Kilicdaroglu, 74, was the opposition’s best performance since Erdogan came to power two decades ago.
But it fell short of the expectations of pre-election polls and disappointed the opposition.
The opposition leader has since introduced changes to his campaign team and hardened his message to win over right-wing voters in the second round, scheduled for May 28.
He also plans to hold a meeting with Sinan Ogan, a right-wing extremist who won 5.2% of the vote and has not yet decided on the character he will support.
“Erdogan, you did not protect the borders and the honor of the country … I deliberately brought more than 10 million refugees into this country … Once I come to power, I will return all refugees to their country,” said Kilicdar, a former civil servant.
Ogan has previously indicated that he will only support a candidate who carries out a security campaign against immigrants and combats “terrorism,” the term used in Turkey for Kurdish fighters.
Erdogan and his party gained support among Muslims around the world for hosting people fleeing conflicts in countries such as Syria.
Turkey has become host to the largest number of refugees and migrants in the world, numbering five million during the last decade.
A separate 2016 agreement between Ankara and the European Union helped ease Europe’s migration crisis by allowing people seeking to reach western Europe to settle in Turkey.
Türkiye obtained from Brussels billions of euros in funding for the programme.
But the economic crisis accelerated as the elections approached, leading to an intensification of anti-immigrant sentiment.
Erdogan’s government tried to find a middle ground.
Today, Thursday, Interior Minister Suleiman Soylu said that Turkey has so far returned more than half a million Syrians.
“We will not turn Turkey into a warehouse for refugees, and we have not done so until now. But the Syrians are our brothers,” he added.
“We cannot send them to death. We did not do that. Tayyip Erdogan does not want to be remembered as the leader who sent the Syrians to death.”