“Erdogan turned Syrian refugees into a weapon, and it’s backfiring”
Zvi Bar’el wrote an analysis for Haaretz in which he delved deep into the rapidly-rising anti-migrant sentiment in Turkey. He took up the case by mentioning what happened to Kanjo – a 17-year-old Syrian asylum seeker who had to drop out of school because of racism.
Kanjo made headlines recently due to an exchange between him and angry Turkish people who seemed to blame him for all the problems caused by foreigners and migrants. By the end of the exchange, the young Syrian was so frustrated that he exclaimed ”Who am I? I am a human!”
“Who am I? I am a human!”— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) July 21, 2022
A 17-year-old Syrian refugee and student in Turkey faced harsh questioning and racist remarks during a street interview that was interrupted by Turkish citizens. pic.twitter.com/eKwmx3fzWZ
The analysis in Haaretz mentioned that it was not only Kanjo who was subjected to this kind of treatment. A 70-year-old woman named Layla Mohammed was struck in the face just because she was Syrian. The attack that took place in Gaziantep also made headlines because all of it was captured on camera.
Mohammed’s attempts to shield her face from her assailant drew attention to the growing problem of racism in the country.
But there are thousands of cases that do not catch the public’s eye. Those unfortunate ones are subjected to discrimination at best or killed at worst.
Syrian refugees say that they are afraid to leave their homes or speak Arabic among themselves because of the harassment and the beatings they then endure.
Racism and discrimination are punishable by law in Turkey. But in order to initiate the legal process, victims must fill out detailed forms – in Turkish. Many asylum seekers cannot do this, either because they have insufficient Turkish or because they are afraid of retribution.
The government is legally responsible for taking care of all asylum seekers residing in Turkey. Ankara receives billions of euros in funds from the EU as part of a 2016 deal in order to ensure that the asylum seekers can live in dignity with access to all basic needs.
The government also condemns these kinds of attacks and rhetoric.
Umit Ozdag, the founder of the Zafer Party, epitomizes these sentiments with his anti-Syrian rhetoric. Ozdag, who currently serves as a deputy in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey – called for the Turkish-Syrian border to be mined to prevent refugees from entering.
The head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kılıcdaroglu, has an equally drastic proposition when it comes to asylum seekers. Kılıcdaroglu pledged to deport millions of Syrians back to Syria, by force if necessary. A lawsuit was filed against Ozdag for his “mine plan” whereas Kılıcdaroglu softened his stance on asylum seekers in the wake of racist attacks, but the hate speech is still there.
This rhetoric is partially fueled by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well. Erdogan, who openly weaponized refugees and asylum seekers by threatening to “open the gates” and let them go to Europe, pledged to repatriate one million Syrians in a buffer zone created by the Turkish Armed Forces and controlled by its proxy, the Syrian National Army.
Erdogan’s government also implemented a law that restricts the movement of asylum seekers in Turkey.
This limits them to the towns or cities where they took refuge. They are not allowed to travel to other districts. There’s even a quota when it comes to asylum seekers. They may constitute no more than 20 percent of the population of a province. The quota was revised from 25 percent in order to quell public backlash.
Turkey is considered to be the country that holds the most refugees in the world. The process began with the Syrian Civil War. Erdogan opened Turkey’s borders to Syrians fleeing the Assad regime. He then used the humanitarian assistance provided by Turkey to leverage Europe. This culminated in the 2016 EU-Turkey deal which allocated billions of euros in funds to support Turkey’s humanitarian efforts and initiated talks to grant Turkish citizens visa liberalization for short trips to Schengen countries.
The Turkish government claims that it did not receive all the funds it was promised by the EU. The visa liberalization scheme never materialized either. But with the economy in a downward spiral and anti-migrant rhetoric on the rise, Erdogan is increasingly backed to a corner when it comes to the asylum seekers. The situation is sure to escalate further with critical elections coming up next June.