ISTANBUL: Turkey is to take "drastic measures" to deal with the influx of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees into its biggest city Istanbul, including forcibly sending them to camps in the southeast, the city's top official said Wednesday.
Istanbul governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said that there were now 67,000 Syrian refugees in the city and legislation would now be adopted that could see them effectively expelled from the city of 15 million to refugee camps closer to Syria.
Mutlu said authorities were going to take "drastic measures" to contain the negative consequences of Syrian refugees in Istanbul, including sending those begging in the streets back to the refugee camps "without their consent."
"In a very short time, we will take new and drastic measures," Mutlu said at an official meeting.
"We are working on legislation that will enable us to send the refugees to the camps even without their consent," he said, adding that 500 were already sent back to a tented camp in the southeast Turkey last month.
Turkey, a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar Assad, currently hosts over 1 million Syrian refugees after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced an open-door policy for those fleeing the conflict.
But of these, only 300,000 are living in camps along the volatile border and many others are eking out a precarious existence in big cities including Istanbul.
Syrian refugees have now become a familiar sight in Istanbul, with whole families huddled together on street corners and begging for money in upscale and tourist areas.
Although refugees living in Istanbul are "much more qualified" than those living elsewhere in Turkey, those begging in the street are disturbing other parts of the Syria refugee community, Mutlu claimed.
"Representatives of the Syrian community in Istanbul are unhappy that their compatriots are begging in Istanbul. They say those people are damaging their image as a refugee," he said.
His comments came amid signs of growing tensions over the increasingly visible presence of Syrian refugees in Turkey.
In the southeastern city of Kahramanmaras on Sunday, police clashed with locals protesting against the influx of Syrian refugees into Turkey.