Turkey is home to millions of migrants and refugees, especially Syrians. As politicians create policies that have an impact on migrants and refugees, these communities hope for a favourable outcome in the elections.
When Mohamed fled Aleppo to Turkey four years ago, he had no idea how long it would take to be able to go back home to Syria. He never started school in Turkey, thinking that the war would end soon and he would start his education upon his return, even if somewhat delayed.
It’s been four years since Mohamed and his family left their home.
Now that both the presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24 are fast approaching, political parties use refugee sentiment in their election promises. Unable to vote, most Syrians have only hopes for their future to bring them safety, at least. It’s not clear yet when the country will be completely cleared of fighting or risk of persecution by the Syrian regime.
“My father says we might try to go back to Syria and decide to come back or not depending on the election results. I heard that living here might be difficult after the elections,” he tells TRT World in Karakoy, a neighbourhood surrounded by boutiques, art galleries and cafes.
Life in Turkey is not easy for Mohamed. He starts his day in Balat, where his family lives, and continues selling tissues in Karakoy and ends his day in touristic Taksim square.
“I can’t study now anyway,” he says. “I have to earn money for my younger siblings, my father has no job.” His father used to work in the textile industry, but he lost his job during the war and was unable to work in Turkey because of the language barrier.
But returning to Syria at the moment would not only be difficult but also unsafe because the fighting continues.
Almost 3.5 million Syrian refugees fled to Turkey since the war broke out in 2011.
Since 2015, the PYD and the Syrian regime-controlled border gates have been kept closed. Turkey is continuing to allow people who need treatment in a fully equipped hospital cross the border gates. The others are taken to the camps, which were built by Turkish agencies on the Syrian side of the border.
Unlike Mohamed, 28-year-old Abdul al Hamid, another Syrian living in Istanbul, is more optimistic about what Turkish elections might bring for Syrians. Before the Syrian war broke out in 2011, he would never imagine that he would end up working as a cashier in a restaurant in Turkey instead of being a lawyer in Damascus, the Syrian capital, where he used to live. But he doesn’t complain.
“We live here comfortably for now. We work here, and we’re safe, thank God,” he tells TRT World.
“We're only guests here, we don't know much about the politics [in Turkey], and don’t know what exactly the candidates say about the Syrians,” Hamid says.
Incumbent President Erdogan wants to send them back once the fighting is over, and tries to create a secure area on Syria's border with Turkey to keep Syrian refugees safe in their country.
Muharrem Ince – the nominee of the main opposition party, the CHP – wants to send an ambassador to Damascus first to form a relationship with the regime, and then send the Syrians back to their homeland with a farewell ceremony. But he also promises to improve living conditions for refugees in Turkey.
Nationalist-opposition Iyi (Good) Party’s Meral Aksener proposes a reduction in the funds allotted to Syrian refugees.
Since the influx of Syrian refugees coming to Turkey in mid-2011, the government has spent to the tune of $36 billion.
The HDP's Selahattin Demirtas promises better living conditions for Syrian refugees and doesn't say anything about sending them back. Dogu Perincek, a politician who is known for his close ties with Russia, says he plans to settle the refugees back in Syria after he holds talks with the regime, if he wins.
Temel Karamollaoglu hasn't mentioned the Syrian refugees in his election manifesto.
Al Hamid says maybe 90 percent of the Syrians living in Fatih, known as “little Syria,” worry who will be the next president and if they're going to be sent back to Syria right after the elections.
“But personally, I’m not afraid. Turkey is still much better than Lebanon for the Syrians,” he says.
“One day, when the war is over, I want to go back and finish my studies in law school.”
Some of the six candidates have not specified any projects regarding refugees who are not Syrians; Syrians are not the only ones who come to Turkey to build a better future for themselves.
Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu district is home to thousands of Afghan refugees.
Both Ali and Habibjan are 23, and they both have ice cream shops in Zeytinburnu. They’re trying to support their families with the money they send to Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan at the moment is in a state of war, so I would like Afghans to be able to stay here,” Habibjan says. “There is nothing to do there. People are coming here to work and send money to their families. I just hope that Afghans will be able to stay in Turkey after the elections.”
But the reasons Afghans flee to Turkey go beyond economic considerations. It is also unsafe for them to go back to the warzone that is Afghanistan.
“There is Taliban in Afghanistan taking the sons of families to fight for them when they come to a certain age. If I had stayed in Afghanistan, I would be forced to fight,” Ali, who came to Turkey three years ago, tells TRT World, in fluent Turkish.
He’s upset that he had to leave his parents behind, but he says at least they are not in danger as Taliban in his village don't take them on account of their age. After staying less than a year in Turkey, he went back to Afghanistan to return to Turkey with official papers, in fear of being deported.
“When you’re sent back, you can't go back to your own village, because you would go through a lot of problems. The Taliban comes to your house to question you. So when I went back, I couldn't go to my village, couldn't see my parents properly,” he says.
“The journey is hard; there have been people who died in front of my eyes because of hunger. Most of them forgot their brothers since they were focused on saving their own lives on the road to Turkey,” he says. “I’m grateful to be here.”
Sukriye came to Turkey from Afghanistan’s capital Kabul four years ago with her husband and four children, following a bombing near their house that left one of her sons mentally impaired. She started working in a textile atelier in Zeytinburnu and learnt Turkish with her own efforts.
“My husband is a construction engineer, but he’s not able to work because of the language barrier,” she tells TRT World.
“I don’t know much about the elections and candidates,” she says. In her four years in Turkey, she has focused on working hard for her children, as her husband couldn’t find any jobs in Turkey.
She says she couldn’t receive any aid from the Turkish state for a while when they first came because of the problems regarding work permits, but eventually she managed to sort everything out.
“We’ve been asked to take really expensive blood tests. It costs $385 in total for all my family. I don’t know how can I afford that,” she says. “I just want whoever is elected to make things a little bit easier for Afghans here.”
But still remembering the situation in her homeland, she is grateful.
“What else I can ask for?” she says.
Istanbul’s Africans are maybe one of the most overlooked communities in Istanbul. Even though they haven’t necessarily fled war or conflict, they, too, are in Turkey for a better life.
Isa, a 24-year-old who came from Ghana eight months ago, couldn’t exactly find what he hoped for in Istanbul. But he is still hopeful he can make enough money to support his family back in his country and work as a barber.
After he landed in Istanbul, he immediately found friends in Tarlabasi, which is now a home to most of the African immigrants. He moved to Tarlabasi and started to work as a barber making house calls. He charges a mere $2.14 per haircut, which is 10 Turkish lira.
He doesn’t know much about the details of the elections in Turkey.
“If someone comes who wants to send away immigrants, it's gonna cause a lot of pain for us. Living as an immigrant is already very hard,” he tells TRT World.
“For now Turkey is cool for us – for the immigrants. We pray for the best; we pray for peaceful elections, so that we would find peace, too.”
Isa’s friend from Tarlabasi, 30-year-old Muhamed, is also from Ghana, and he has been working in a metal atelier in Sisli since he came to Istanbul seven months ago.
"The current situation is fine, but elections are kind of an uncertainty for us,” he tells TRT World in a hesitant tone.
“I don’t know about politics here, but we want a president, who is going to be there for the Turkish people and also for the Africans, especially with the immigrants to come.”
His Turkish colleague interrupts. “They do know about the elections, and they do fear what could happen to them. But they don’t want to get into politics. They came here just for bread and butter, leaving everything behind,” he says.
“This man, Muhamed, is supporting his pregnant wife back in Ghana with his hard work. Whoever messes with them, has no fear of God.”