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Turkish man sparks outrage for kicking 70-year-old Syrian refugee woman in the head

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A Turkish man has sparked outrage on social media for kicking a 70-year-old, mentally disabled Syrian woman on the side of her head as anti-refugee sentiment has reached a boiling point in Turkey, where refugees are blamed for many of the country’s social and economic troubles.

According to local media reports, 39-year-old Şakir Çakır kicked Leyla Muhammed, a 70-year-old Syrian refugee woman with a mental disability whom he allegedly mistook for a child kidnapper, on the side of her head in the southeastern province of Gaziantep.

Çakır was detained after the Gaziantep Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into the incident.

The attack, video footage of which was widely shared on social media, drew anger and condemnation from many users, especially following news reports saying that the attacker was released after a brief detention on Monday.

Şamil Tayyar, a member of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party’s Central Decision and Executive Board (MKYK), on Monday said in a tweet that Çakır, who has a lengthy criminal record, was released after a brief detention.

In another tweet posted on Tuesday, Tayyar said Çakır was in custody again and would appear in court following an interrogation.

“The kick at the old Syrian woman hurt me like I was the one kicked. What are we going to do with these savages among us?” Turkish journalist Levent Gültekin tweeted.

“If the person who kicked a poor 70-year-old woman in the head is Turkish, [then] I’m on the side of the Syrian who was kicked, not [on the side of] the Turk who kicked her! This doesn’t take anything away from my Turkishness … on the contrary, it elevates it,” a social media user said.

Another user said: “If the kick at the old Syrian woman doesn’t hurt you as much as those at your closest [friends or relatives], you are either racist or heartless. There isn’t a third possibility.”

Some users accused Ümit Özdağ, leader of the far-right and anti-refugee Victory Party (ZP), which has been at the forefront of anti-refugee propaganda in Turkey, for the attack against the Syrian woman, arguing he also should be held responsible for it.

Anti-refugee sentiment has escalated in Turkey, fueled by the country’s economic woes. With unemployment high and the price of food and housing skyrocketing, many Turks have turned their frustration toward refugees, particularly the nearly 4 million Syrians who fled the civil war that broke out in 2011.

Attitudes about refugees fleeing the long conflict in Syria have gradually hardened in Turkey, where they used to be welcomed with open arms, sympathy and compassion, as the number of newcomers has swelled over the past decade.

Tensions between Turks and Syrians flare up on occasion in Turkey, where refugees are blamed for many of the country’s social and economic troubles.

Hate crimes against refugees and migrants have been escalating in recent years as Turkish media, including pro-government and opposition outlets, fuel and exploit the flames of hatred against people who fled their countries and sought refuge in Turkey.

Anti-migrant sentiment has also been expressed by opposition politicians, including Özdağ and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who promised to send Syrians back home if his party comes to power in 2023.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is facing rising public anger over the refugees and is wary of the issue dominating next year’s presidential election, said earlier this month that Ankara was aiming to encourage 1 million refugees to return home by building housing and local infrastructure in Syria.

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