Syrian refugees face rising resentment in post-election Turkey
by Burak Akinci
Amid current economic difficulties in Turkey, the Syrian refugees in the country are facing rising resentment, if not hostility, from the local population, especially following the recent local elections.
There are more than 3.63 million Syrians living in Turkey, most of them are still registered as refugees, while only a small proportion of them, or 55,000, have been granted Turkish citizenship.
The Syrians are not very welcome by local Turkish communities in some cities, not only for cultural differences, but also due to the economic challenges.
Tanju Ozcan, the newly elected mayor of Bolu province in western Turkey, caused controversy recently as he immediately delivered his pre-election promises to cut off municipal financial aid to the Syrian refugees and refused to grant municipal permit to open businesses for the Syrians and other asylum seekers.
Ozcan is a member of the main opposition People's Republican Party (CHP), which won several big cities, including the capital Ankara, in the March 31 local elections.
There are about 12,000 foreigners in the city, of whom only 2,379 are Syrians, according to official data, so the mayor's move will have negligible effect on the Syrian community.
However, Ekrem Imamoglu, the CHP mayoral candidate for Istanbul, said that "we want Syrians to go back." This could have serious effect on the 555,000 registered Syrians living in the city.
"There is indeed palpable reaction towards the refugees in general in certain provinces, especially in south and southeast Anatolia, where in some cases the number of Syrians exceeds that of the locals," Mehmet Enes Beser, an expert on migration issues, told Xinhua.
But Beser, director of the Bosphorus Migration Studies, a think-tank that is known for deeper analysis of migration, said that this dislike of Syrian refugees among the Turkish population has not become a general hostility towards refugees.
He regretted that the government has not fully explained to the population the implication that such an influx of refugee would have on the social and economic fabric of the country.
Turkey's opposition parties have been asking for greater transparency in Turkey's refugee spending, blaming the government for not preparing the people for the inevitable: the massive inflow of Syrian refugees into Turkey.
Many Syrians in Turkey avoid revealing their nationalities, fearing that they could face backlash from Turkish citizens in some neighborhoods.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened his country's border to Syrian refugees when the war began in Syria in 2011 and has declared that his country had already spent 35 billion U.S. dollars for resettling them. He has changed his discourse in recent months, speaking of an assisted voluntary return of the Syrian refugees.
Some 320,000 Syrians have so far returned to their hometowns as the result of two Turkish military operations in northern Syria to wipe out terrorist elements, after which reconstruction started, said Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu.
A sharp economic downturn that hit Turkey last summer with a currency meltdown has also contributed to the rising tensions amid competition for jobs in the country with high unemployment and inflation rates.
Official data announced on Monday showed that the youth employment hit record 26.7 percent, the highest since 1988.
Omar Kadkoy, a Syrian refugee himself and a research associate focusing on migration with the Ankara-based TEPAV think tank, said Syrian refugees are a convenient scapegoat and that the "negative shift of sentiment towards Syrians isn't recent."
"The current economic condition in Turkey exacerbates the resentment against the Syrians and with dwindling opportunities, refugees become the scapegoat," he told Xinhua.
Kadkoy insisted that the Turkish public should be presented with a transparent and comprehensive strategy regarding the future of the Syrian refugees.
"This strategy should contextualize Syrians out of the contested 'guest' image by putting forward a path toward a level living space," he said.