Deporting Hope: Syrian Refugee Struggle in Turkey
Turkey has taken in more Syrian refugees than any other country - by far. There are 3.6 million in the country with nearly one million estimated to be living in Istanbul. The ruling AKP has prided itself on its humanitarian response to the crisis, initially throwing open its doors to those fleeing.
But 8 years on from the start of the war, amid reports of destitution, discrimination, and even deportations, redfish visits Turkey to investigate if that welcome has now gone cold.
On the streets and in the cafes of Istanbul, Turkish resentment towards Syrians is palpable. "They can come as tourists, there is no problem with that. But after a certain period of stay, they should leave," and another who said: "You only see Arabs here. I almost feel like a foreigner. We are the only ones speaking Turkish, everyone’s speaking Arabic."
This anti-refugee sentiment has translated into very real threats towards Syrian refugees. Our investigation shows how refugees with resident permits are being illegally deported back to Syria. We spoke to Mustafa whose son was deported and then shot dead at the Turkey-Syrian border while trying to cross back into Turkey. When we told him that the Turkish authorities claim that deportations are not happening, Mustafa responded: "If they are not deporting, how was my son killed while he had a permit? That is the proof. How was my son along with 35 others were deported on the same bus? Why are deportations happening daily? His kids today weep for their father. They want papa. His elder son is still waking up during the night. He is still frightened until today. I think this kid needs a psychiatrist."
Yildiz Onen is an organiser with the "We Are All Migrants" campaign which advocates for refugees. She told redfish that xenophobia in Turkey has deep roots: "Unfortunately, nationalism and racism are quite high in Turkey. The state always tries to have a scapegoat for all the political and economic crisis in Turkey. It used to be the Kurds for a long, long time and it’s Syrians now."
Sezgin Tanrıkulu of the Republican People's Party (CHP), believes that the Turkish invasion of northern Syria was partly about addressing the refugee issue, as part of a grand demographic plan: "Their aim is to resettle Syrian refugees - the refugees who came from all over Syria - into this 'safe zone'. I might add that 60 years ago, the Baathist regime too had sent an Arab population into northern Syria, which was predominantly inhabited by Kurds. Today this occurs differently under the 'safe zone' label. This is wrong and the consequences of changing sociological and demographic structures are heavy. I warn the government in this regard."