While refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria were once welcomed in Turkey, that is no longer the case as anti-refugee sentiments are becoming more common in the country, the Associated Press reported on Saturday.
The wire service began with the story of Fatima Alzahra Shon, a Syrian whose Turkish neighbours attacked her and her son and questioned what they were doing in “our” country. One man threatened to cut Shon and her family “into pieces.” She believes the attack was solely motivated by “racism.”
“Refugees fleeing the long conflict in Syria once were welcomed in neighbouring Turkey with open arms, sympathy and compassion for fellow Muslims,” the article said. “But attitudes gradually hardened as the number of newcomers swelled over the past decade.”
Now, widespread sentiment against immigrants and refugees in Turkey is “nearing a boiling point, fueled by Turkey’s economic woes.”
Turkey today is home to the largest refugee population on the planet. AP cited Selim Sazak, a visiting international security researcher at Bilkent University in Ankara, who compared the vast influx of refugees into Turkey over the past decade to the absorption of “a foreign state that’s ethnically, culturally, linguistically dissimilar.”
As Turks face higher prices for basic goods and services and growing unemployment, they are directing their anger and frustration toward the 5 million foreigners who live in the country, especially the 3.7 million Syrian refugees. In August, an angry mob in the Turkish capital Ankara vandalized Syrian homes and businesses in retaliation for the lethal stabbing of a Turkish teenager by Syrian refugees in a fight.
“Everyone thought it would be temporary,” Sazak said. “I think it’s only recently that the Turkish population understood that these people are not going back. They are only recently understanding that they have to become neighbors, economic competitors, colleagues with this foreign population.”
Such sentiments would likely be exacerbated by a new influx of Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban takeover of their country in August. AP noted that videos purportedly showing young Afghan men being smuggled into Turkey from Iran resulted in a public outcry and renewed calls for strengthening the country’s border.
The article also notes that Syrians often face accusations of failing to assimilate into Turkey. It referenced a pastry shop owner in Istanbul named Kerem Pasaoglu who wants to see the Syrians leave and expressed his annoyance that some Syrian-owned shops have signs written in Arabic instead of Turkish.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose government previously welcomed refugees, has now said that he will not allow Turkey to become a “warehouse” for refugees. He has sent troops to Turkey’s border with Iran and is fast-tracking the construction of a wall along that border.
“Just when we said we are we said we are getting used to Syrians or they will leave, now the Afghans coming is unfortunately very difficult for us,” he said.