Recently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and assured him of Turkey's "solidarity" with the Palestinian cause, pledging to support the Palestinians in "all fields." But instead of welcoming the Palestinians fleeing from the civil war in Syria, Erdogan is humiliating them and trying to throw them into prison. Pictured: Erdogan (right) hosts Abbas in his palace in Ankara on January 12, 2015. (Photo by Adem Altan/AFP via Getty Images)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan excels at making statements in support of the Palestinians. His actions, however, suggest quite a different attitude about the plight of thousands of Palestinian refugees who fled to Turkey from Syria in the past two years.
For a start, Erdogan does not even recognize these refugees as Palestinian -- although they carry ID cards issued by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) as well as other documents defining them as Palestinian.
Erdogan considers these refugees Syrian, not Palestinian, because they arrived from Syria and their temporary travel documents were issued by either the Syrian government or UNRWA.
All the same, recently Erdogan chatted on the phone with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and assured him of Turkey's "solidarity" with the Palestinian cause. Erdogan reportedly told Abbas that Turkey will continue to support the Palestinians in "all fields."
Erdogan has long boasted of his support for Hamas and said he does not regard it as a terrorist organization. "Hamas," Erdogan said during an official visit to London in May 2018, "is one of the resistance movements working to liberate the occupied territories of the Palestinians."
In a May 24 video message on the occasion of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, Erdogan repeated Turkey's support for the Palestinians. "We will not allow the Palestinian lands to be offered to anyone else," he said, referring to Israel's intention to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank. "Last week we witnessed that a new occupation and annexation project, which disregards Palestine's sovereignty and international law, was put into action by Israel."
In September 2019, Erdogan made yet another passionate pro-Palestinian speech at the UN General Assembly. "Turkey will continue to stand by the oppressed people of Palestine as it has always done so until today," he said as he again spouted hate against Israel and its leaders.
Erdogan even managed to impress former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who sent a letter thanking him for speaking "on behalf of all persecuted Muslims in the world."
When Erdogan was re-elected as Turkey's president in the 2018 general election, many Palestinians, including Abbas and Hamas leaders, were quick to congratulate him on the victory.
"Hamas is congratulating Erdogan for the success of the democratic experiment and for winning the presidential election. Hamas wants to build relations with regional countries such as Turkey and wants it to stand by the right of the Palestinian people to confront Israeli aggression."
Erdogan has indeed been supportive of some Palestinians -- mainly, Hamas and its Palestinian leaders, some of whom live in Turkey.
A December 2019 report in the British daily The Telegraph revealed that Erdogan was "playing host" to Hamas. From Turkey, the Palestinian terror group, according to the report, has been plotting attacks against Israel.
The activities of Hamas, the report said, include efforts to recruit suicide bombers -- with a reward of $20,000 promised to the families of the terrorists -- and to assassinate senior Israeli officials.
In the past two years, several Hamas delegations have visited Turkey for meetings with Erdogan and senior Turkish government functionaries.
While Erdogan is paying lip service to the Palestinian cause and praising Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist group by the US, EU and Canada and Australia, Palestinian refugees who fled to Turkey from Syria are complaining of discrimination and mistreatment by the Turkish authorities.
While portraying himself as the defender of the Palestinians and of the holy Islamic sites in Jerusalem, Erdogan is also depriving thousands of Palestinian refugees of basic rights, including access to education and medical care.
Last week, Palestinian activists launched a campaign to try to solve the legal problems facing Palestinian refugees in Turkey. The activists said that Palestinian refugees who fled from Syria are required to report to Turkish security authorities once every two weeks. The Turkish authorities, the activists complained, were refusing to issue official documentation for Palestinian children whose parents have failed to settle their legal status in the country. As a result, the children are being denied access to schools and medical care.
According to Palestinian sources, there are about 10,000 Palestinian refugees in Turkey who are suffering from discrimination and living in dire conditions.
The biggest surprise for the Palestinians refugees, however, came when they noticed that the Turkish authorities were labeling them as Syrian citizens.
By registering them as Syrians, the Turkish authorities have put the Palestinian refugees in an impossible position. When Turkish authorities later check their documents and discover that they hold Palestinian passports although they have been labeled Syrians, the refugees are accused of forgery and face imprisonment or deportation.
The suffering of the Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria begins the moment they arrive at the border with Turkey, Thuri Tamim, a Palestinian refugee, told the Palestinian Refugees Portal, an independent website covering news related to Palestinian refugees.
"Most of [the Palestinians] who entered Turkey illegally were arrested by the Turkish border guards. When they introduced themselves as Palestinians and presented their UNRWA-issued ID cards, they were imprisoned for 30-45 days."
Tamim pointed out that Palestinian refugees who fled from to Turkey from Syria are experiencing "legal marginalization." He and other Palestinian refugees said they found it bizarre that that the Turkish authorities do not recognize Palestinian refugees carrying Syrian documents as actually Palestinian.
Another Palestinian activist, Mohammed Omar, said that Turkey's laws on refugees have made life unlivable for the Palestinians. "The Palestinian passport cannot be used for obtaining work permits, renting a home or receiving various services such as water, gas and electricity," Omar lamented. The plight of the Palestinian refugees, he added, has only intensified in the past few months, during the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead of welcoming the Palestinians fleeing from the civil war in Syria, Erdogan is humiliating them and trying to throw them into prison.
If Erdogan really wants to help the Palestinians, he can start by ordering his government to stop arresting and harassing Palestinian refugees. If he really wants to help the Palestinians, he can stop playing host and cash cow to Hamas, which has brought nothing but misery to Palestinians. As far as Erdogan is concerned, the Palestinians are just another card he seems to be using to advance his goal of becoming the "Sultan of all Muslims."
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.