“You deserve more than a thousand mean persons like Bashar” | Racist campaigns and hate speech threaten the safety and lives of Syrian refugees in Turkey and exacerbate their sufferings
Since the first spark of the Syrian Revolution in 2011, Turkey has been a major shelter for Syrians who have been seeking a safe haven away from atrocities committed by regime forces and their proxy militias in Syria. In the beginning, Turkish authorities and people welcomed Syrian people. With the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey increasing a year after another, stances of Turkish officials and a vast segment of Turkish society towards Syrian refugees in Turkey have dramatically changed.
In the early years of the Syrian crisis, Turkish officials, including both leaders of the Turkish opposition and officials of the ruling party “Justice and Development Party,” started to release racist campaigns and inflammatory statements which touched Turkish society and led to the growing state of tension against the presence of Syrians in Turkish territory. Such campaigns came under the pretext that “the presence of Syrians in Turkey contributed to decreasing job opportunities and impacted the Turkish economy which has been in freefall,” as well as other pretexts.
Today, Syrian refugees in Turkey are suffering from the repercussions of such statements, where racist rhetoric continues, amid clamping down on these refugees, which has evolved to a critical level. Many of Syrian refugees now feel that Turkey has become an unsuitable or unsafe place for Syrians due to repression against them and attempts to drive them to troubles and other internal events. The latest of such racist campaigns took place in Al-Fateh neighbourhood in the Turkey’s Istanbul city centre, where activists and social media users circulated pictures showing writings and graffiti left on houses of Syrian refugees, calling for expelling them from Turkey, some of which read “expel the Syrians – expel the Arabs.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has interviewed several Syrians from different Turkish cities about this case, several years after getting asylum in Turkey.
Although having been affected by the decision discharging Syrian teachers, a 33-year-old man known by his initials as K. M. is still struggling with racism against Syrians in the Turkish city of Al-Rayhaniyah. The young man also struggles with shunning and pejorative attitude by Turks towards Syrian refugees in the city. Speaking to SOHR, the young man says, “I am from the western countryside of Hama and came to Turkey in 2013. I started working as a teacher in a primary school in 2017 until the latest decision was issued, discharging thousands of Syrian teachers in Turkey. Recently, the way which Turkish people deal with Syrians is very racist, where Syrian people are unable to defend their rights, fearing deportation to Syria, and this is the most dangerous decision that Syrian refugees in Turkey may face. The Turkish people’s treatment of Syrians has changed greatly and differed from their treatment in the first four years of the war.”
“In the recent time, Syrian refugees, especially young ones in villages, are being provoked to get them into troubles which lead them to being deported. Syrian people dare not to leave their houses at night alone no more due to infightings and skirmishes with Turkish civilians who lie in wait for them at streets. Such practices were not noticed a few years ago.”
The man clarified that young people are subjected to racist campaigns and inhumane treatment by many of the Turkish people the most, where Turks sees Syrian refugees dominating the job market, although most of the Syrian refugees in Turkey depend on themselves to earn their living. Moreover, the Turkish government do not bear any extra expenses, weather medical treatment, education or food aid.
K. M. thinks that the racist rhetoric and language by Turkish officials all along the crisis has played a major role in worsening the sufferings of Syrian refugees, as it has given a green light to Turks to clamp down on Syrian people and contributed greatly to igniting popular anger against Syrian refugees.
On the other hand, a 60-year-old man known by his initials as A. S. has told SOHR that he is concerned about his children from bad-tempered Turkish people and from troubles they engage in with Syrians. The man said, “I was forced to leave Hama city in 2011, after one of my sons was summoned to join the military service in the regime army. I stayed with my six-member family in north Syria region for a year, before I headed to Turkey where my children started to work in farmlands in the Turkish province of Hatay for daily wages. My children later headed to other areas in Istanbul and Antalya where they worked in factories that exported vegetables. Recently, I have been concerned about my 25-year-old and 18-year-old sons being engaged in troubles with Turkish civilians who hate the presence of Syrian people in their land. The losers of such fights are always the Syrians, as the Turkish authorities will never hesitate to send them back to Syria without any fair trials. Syrians are always blamed for such fights, as they are refugees, and this means that they are ten-class citizens.”
“Not all Turkish people treat Syrians badly. However, most of Turks have changed their treatment with Syrian refugees, taking advantage of Turkish laws which side with the Turks and designed to prevent most of Syrian people from obtaining any documents or ownership deeds ensuring their rights. Even at the level of work, there are no official contracts deterring Turkish authorities from violating the rights of Syrian refugees.”
The man has confirmed that his children and many Syrians who he knows personally have fallen victims and deprived of their financial dues by employers in factories and farmlands, clarifying that a Turkish woman running a workshop for exporting vegetables has stolen 22,000 TL from his sons. The man also expressed his sorrow regarding the current situation of the helpless Syrian refugees in Turkey, as there are no institutions defending their rights, while the Turkish government has taken no action to put an end to this repression practiced against Syrian civilians in Turkey, who are deprived of their basic rights. Turkish society has not dealt with Syrians as refugees any more, as most of the Turks see that Syrians have made Turkey shoulder extra burden, as the man described.
Meanwhile, a 40-year-old woman known by her initials as A. M. sees that contempt and disrespect which chase Syrian refugees everywhere in Turkey, including in streets, markets, shops, governmental institutions and even by the house owners and neighbours, just for “being able to enjoy things that Turks cannot obtain in their country,” as Turkish people think. Turkish people see that Syrian refugee in Turkey work, buy whatever they want and leave nothing for them, and consider this as a support provided by Turkey and that they are the ones deserving this support, as the woman remarked.
Commenting on this issue, the woman has told SOHR, “most of Syrian refugee work more shifts than Turks and endure extra difficulties to earn their living. However, they do not like to save money, so they spend relatively much money to buy all their needs. Turkish people are not familiar with these practices, so they see that Syrian refugees having too much money and a lot of assets, noting that the wages of Syrian refugees are less than the half of wages and salaries which Turkish people receive. Racism against Syrians in Turkey has reached an alarming level, and they have become under the microscope everywhere they go. Syrians are treated roughly by Turkish civilians in streets and markets, as if they want to send direct messages to Syrian people that they have to be expelled from Turkey. We do not know the reason behind this mistreatment. There are several areas in Turkey have been noticeably improved after the arrival of Syrian refugees, such as Al-Rayhaniyah city where tens of shops, shopping centres and restaurants owned by Syrians have been opened.”
“When my family and I crossed border strip from Atma district into Turkish territory in 2012, the Turkish Border Guards ‘Jandarma’ welcomed us, offered us food and held our luggage. Matters went normally until considerable change in treatment started to be noticed in 2015 when many Turkish civilians started to abandon and avoid Syrian refuges. During this period, several disagreements took place between Syrians and Turks over the racist treatment and undermining the refugees. Recently, the expression ‘you deserve more than a thousand mean persons like Bashar’ has been said frequently by many Turkish civilians almost in every time when any of them disagree with a Syrian refugee, even over trivial matters. Syrian citizens in Turkey have no right to defend themselves, and they have to accept this situation, as it is so difficult for refugees to return to north Syria region, which hosts regime opponents, due to the dreadful living conditions there.”
An activist known as A. K. has shared his point of view with SOHR, stating that “turning the case of Syrian refugees into a bargaining chip used by Turkish officials, whether those of the Turkish opposition or of the ruling “Justice and Development Party,” has aimed to gain popular supporters, where each side is attempting to show people that it is better than the other. Accordingly, many statements underestimating Syrian refugees were released with the beginning of their arrival in Turkey, as well as adopting arbitrary and illegal measures against them. These statements have influenced Turkish people who clamped down further on Syrians and ignited racism against them.”
“The racist and inflammatory statements and hate speech started from the top of the chain of command, where the Turkish president ‘Recep Tayyip Erdogan’ has never missed talking about the role of Turkey to host four million Syrian refugees and securing all means of comfort for them in every occasion, conference and meeting he attends. Also, we cannot ignore the statement of the official who belongs to the opposition Republican People’s Party and the head of the municipality of the Turkish city of Bolu ‘Tanju Ozcan’ who demanded Syrian refugees to pay for fees of bills of electricity and drinking water ten times higher than the fees which Turkish people pay. In addition, the statements by the head of the Republican People’s Party ‘Kemal Kilicdaroglu,’ during which he vowed to send Syrian refugees back to their homeland in the case he becomes the president of Turkey.”
The activist also commented on the state of aggression of many Turkish officials towards Syrian citizens, clarifying that the statements issued by officials of the ruling party have contributed greatly to exacerbating racism against the Syrian refugees who have been already suffering due to their undesired presence in Turkey.”
The activist has pointed out to the need for exerting diligent efforts by international organisation and major powers to spur Turkish government on countering racism practiced against Syrian refugees and making sure that they are not subjected to any mental or physical harm. He added that these refugees are protected by a legitimate right, the right to seek asylum, due to the devastating war in Syria, and every political Turkish body has to respect the rights of refugees.
Also, A. K. has stressed that Syrian activists in Turkey should launch campaigns against racism practiced against Syrian refugees, highlight their plight and disclose facts and violations to the rights of Syrian refugees in Turkey where the temporary protection cards ”Kimlik” are supposed to preserve their rights as refugees.
It is worth noting that Turkish government adopted a series of unjust measure against Syrian refugees in Turkey in the past few years, including discharging of thousands of Syrian teachers depriving them from teaching in schools in Turkey, although they had been appointed under contracts agreed with UNICEF which also provides support to them. Furthermore, the Turkish government had issued a decision preventing escorts with Syrian patients receiving treatment in hospitals in Turkey form crossing into Turkish territory, and another decision stipulating taking away of the temporary protection cards ”Kimlik” from Syrian patients in hospitals in Turkey and depriving them from free medical treatment.