Turkish security forces have arrested more than 120 people since August 13, over attacks against Syrian refugees and their properties in the capital Ankara, following the death of a Turkish citizen in a fight with a Syrian refugee. The incident triggered riots in neighborhoods housing Syrians in Ankara, which took place repeatedly, as fights between Turkish and Syrian people have led to eviction of all refugees from some Turkish neighborhoods in cities of Syrian majority.
Recent riots erupted over the death of a Turkish citizen named Emirhan Yalçın who was stabbed to death by Syrian refugees in Ankara, more than two weeks ago. Later, Turkish authorities arrested at least two Syrian refugees for participating in killing Yalçın, whose death triggered public outrage in Altındağ district where he was murdered. The district’s residents took to the streets, stoning apartments that they thought belonged to Syrians, and set ablaze number of cars that might belong to Syrians as well.
Security authorities detained 72 people for “enticing violence” against Syrian refugees. They also arrested 76 others for participating in the attacks against Syrian houses and properties, according to the Turkish ministry of interior which also revealed that 150 of those detained have criminal records of robbery and drug trafficking.
The riots once again pushed back the case of Syrian refugees into the spotlight in Turkey’s political circles, as it has been a point of dispute between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on one side and opposition parties such as Republican People's Party (CHP), the main opposition party, the pro-Kurds Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), and the rightist Good Party, on the other side.
While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has pledged to make the return of Syrian refugees to their home country “voluntary”, the pro-Kurds party demanded that attacks against Syrians must stop and defended “coexistence”. Meantime, the Good Party’s leader Meral Akşener, asked the Turkish President to permit her to visit Damascus to discuss the return of Syrians to their country with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Although Akşener opposes the existence of Syrian refugees in Turkey, she backed off from her stances and said that “Turkish people are not hostile to refugees in our country.” This is the first time she has taken this stance, as she repeatedly called for evicting refugees from Turkey immediately in the past.
“Events that took place in Turkey, especially in Ankara, are a result of divisive efforts aimed at creating rifts inside Turkish society,” Abdullah Resul Demir, Chairman of International Refugee Right Association (IRRA), told Majalla.
He added that, “Someone is constantly trying to get political mileage from this. They use refugees as political card. In fact, this situation does not reflect the general point of view of Turkish society on refugees.”
“The fact that such incidents occur after the racist rhetoric of a politician is the biggest evidence of that. Moreover, it is understood that many of the protesters did not reside in Altındağ the setting of the incident in question,” he explained.
“Unfortunately, such negative news finds its place in the media very quickly. Especially in social media, some malicious people present such negativities to the society in a different way with a racist approach. The role of the media here is that they should not publish such events without investigating the background and cause.”
Demir added that such publications serve “malicious” purposes, and recommended that it is important for the media to “include positive news about refugees.”
“Although a certain part of the society does not want refugees in Turkey, we do not think that this is the majority. No matter what, refugees should not be used as a political tool in the next elections. Otherwise, we may continue to see such tensions in our country,” he pointed out.
He also confirmed, “Refugees will stay in our country under both local and international laws if the persecution and war environment continues in the region they came from.”
An estimate of more than 3.6 million refugees in Turkey is a contentious topic between the ruling party and its opponents. The former party said that it came to power without pledging to evict refugees, in explicit criticism to CHP, whose leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has called on Syrians to come to Turkey “but only as tourists.”
In 2016, Turkey signed an agreement with the European Union in which it pledged to stop the flow of refugee to Europe, but both parties to the agreements are currently amending its provisions.
Turkey has periodically received millions of dollars from the EU and international organizations for sheltering millions of Syrian refugees on its land since the eruption of the Syrian civil war which has entered its second decade last March.
Turkish territories constitute a main crossing point for Syrian, Iranian, Afghan and other refugees who aspire to enter European countries.