Looking back, it was only early last month that I wrote a review on refugees based on Turkish pop singer Demet Akalın’s statement, “Syrians should go back home.” When, shortly after the article, nine-months pregnant Emani Errahman who was raped was then killed with her 11-month-old son, I had written another article dealing with the Syrian refugee problem.
It appears that I am someone who writes frequently on the topic of Syrians. Despite the frequency, I wanted to write on Syrians again today, yet I think this topic is going to have heavier outcomes than predicted. I had the chance in the last two months to speak to many people and make observations in different places and different environments. Of course these observations are not scientifically binding, but if complaints about Syrian neighbors are the first thing that comes out of the mouth of every two of the three people you speak to, then there is certainly a sociological situation and, I believe that a very serious wave of racism is rising from the lower echelons of society in Turkey; this wave is not diminishing, it is increasingly growing, expanding.
Let me put it like this: The fact that the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) voter profile in Turkey has no toleration for Syrians was officially declared on two occasions by CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu through his statement, “When we come to power, we will send them home.” To concretely see the discrimination in certain Aegean and Mediterranean cities, the CHP’s natural hinterland, one does not need to be a local of that region. For instance, when you stay in Muğla or İzmir for a couple days and speak to a few people, the topic immediately coming to Syrians and discourse about exaggerated security concerns is enough to show the state of the region.
Meanwhile, conservatives who appear to be average Justice and Development Party (AK Party) voters are also seen quite frequently to have animosity toward Syrians. They too complain of the lack of peace in their neighborhoods, saying “they have permeated everywhere.” We already know the neo-nationalists’ theory: “Instead of staying in Syria and fighting for their land, they flee and come here and stare at our women on our beaches.”
What’s worse is that part of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) also share the same opinion. As the MHP voters generally support policies produced through “race,” it is understandable, likewise the CHP voter adopts a “race” based political approach from a different aspect. If you ask them, forget refugees, even those who do not bear the qualities of “an acceptable citizen,” despite living in this country, do not belong here. We are used to this; what we are not used to is the widespread Syrian refugee racism among conservatives; there is no room for this in our religion, in AK Party policies or humanity, but that is the way it is.
The hatred and discrimination in Turkey against Syrians is silently growing. It seems that our community could not be convinced to believe that even if part of the refugees return, part of them will not return and stay with us, and that we will build Turkey’s future together. It appears that in the last five-year period, it has not been possible to prevent Syrian refugees from being seen as burdens. This needs to be solved. How? Of course, not by sending them back to their country, which is in a state of ruins; by first raising awareness among the community, then convincing them and then through integration. The discourse of CHP politicians, performance artists and some who are considered as elites that produces racism and hatred do not help convince the people to live together. Responsible politics are essential.
The second topic is education. More than half of the refugees are under 18 and all of them need to be included in the curriculum in Turkey. Of course there are integration efforts in relation to Syrians, but because they are made separately within every institute and as the refugee problem is not managed from a single center, it is difficult for us to know about those other than the ones that come up on the media’s agenda.
Continuing to list the things that need to be done: Practices such as free health services for Syrians was – in my opinion – the product of quite a humane and right thought, yet for integration, Syrians need to be employed. The matter that requires attention in employment is to prevent the exploitation of labor, otherwise, justified complaints such as, “they are dropping prices in the market by doing the work we do at lower prices,” will emerge on the Turkish side and the exploitation will continue. The exploitation of labor can be prevented by granting them work permits.
Yet, before anything, a Refugee Ministry needs to be established. And it needs to be done imminently. If such a sharp fault line has emerged in a time period as short as five years, I cannot begin to think about what may happen 10 years later.