07/10/2019, 13.23
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Economic crisis and unemployment fuel attacks against Syrian refugees in Istanbul

Violence against businesses run by Syrian refugees has escalated in recent weeks. The government seems to be backpedaling on policies of "Muslim solidarity". Even Istanbul’s new anti-Erdogan mayor uses nationalist slogans.

Istanbul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Syrian refugees in Turkey are increasingly vigilant following a spate of attacks in recent weeks that have fuelled a climate of fear.

The latest incident involves a barber in Küçükçekmece, a working-class district in Istanbul. Ahmad Yassine was working when his shop and those of other Syrians were attacked by an angry mob.

"They threw stones, the window was completely shattered,” the young man who fled Aleppo six years ago told AFP.

“There was three of us inside, we were scared,” he explained. "We were not able to leave before midnight, one in the morning".

Syrian refugees openly fear an escalation fuelled by the xenophobic language used in the recent electoral campaign.

Turkey is host to the largest number of refugees in the world, including 3.5 million Syrians (500,000 in Istanbul alone) forced to flee their war-ravaged homeland.

Turkish authorities saw their presence as temporary, but it has been extended. Meanwhile the economic situation in Turkey has worsened. This has increasingly put the country’s hospitality policy to the test.

A study by Istanbul's Kadir Has University last week showed that the share of Turks unhappy with the presence of Syrians rose from 54.5 per cent in 2017 to 67.7 per cent in 2019. Meanwhile, tensions are rising.

The incident involving the barbershop in Küçükçekmece began when rumours began circulating that a Syrian boy had verbally harassed a Turkish girl, something denied by police.

Mohammad Amari, a 27-year-old Syrian who fled Damascus seven months ago, discovered the day after that the bakery where he worked had been ransacked. Esat Sevim, a Turkish restaurant, was also targeted because of its Syrian staff.

With the economy slowing down, double-digit inflation and high unemployment, especially among young people, Syrians are often scapegoated.

Even those who do not condone the violence, like Murat, a worker who lives in Küçükçekmece, want Syrians to return home because "our youth cannot find work anymore".

Syrian refugees were one of the issues in recent local elections in Istanbul that saw the triumph of Ekrem İmamoğlu. The latter who ran against Erdogan often spoke out against the number of Arabic signs in some parts of the city. "This is Turkey, this is Istanbul," he said last week.

During the campaign, the hostility towards Syrians came to a head-on social media, with the hashtag, #SyriansGetOut.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government – who welcomed Syrians in the name of "Muslim solidarity" – is now trying to take a tougher line after accusations of softness.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Saturday said no more Syrians would be able to register as residents in Istanbul, Turkey’s business capital.

And the Istanbul governor's office last week ordered 700 Syrian merchants to remove their signs in Arabic and replace them with the Turkish language.

Most people in Küçükçekmece have sought to downplay the recent incidents and called for solidarity. However, refugees fear the worse as tensions rise.

For Yassine the barber, "This time, they only attacked with stones. But who knows if one day they will not attack me with weapons?"

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