Syrian migrants in Turkey have expressed mounting concern over being sent back to Syria as political rhetoric during ongoing elections has fueled anti-migrant sentiment, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported, citing Deutsche Welle (DW) Turkish service.
Days before a critical presidential runoff on May 28, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has vowed to repatriate Syrians. Ultra-right-wing politician Ümit Özdağ, notorious for his anti-migrant stance, endorsed Kılıçdaroğlu in the presidential race, adding to the worries of Syrians.
Taha Elgazi, a translator and migrant rights activist, said many Syrians were too afraid to even leave their homes. “Their fear isn’t without reason since some Syrians have been the targets of hate crime and violence,” he said. “Syrians are now segregating themselves from society and turning more and more towards their own community.”
“Of course, we follow social media, and we are well aware of the anti-Syrian posts that are being shared,” said Rahaf, a researcher in Istanbul.
Syrian student Melek Touma said popular social media platforms such as Twitter, TikTok and Instagram were full of anti-Syrian posts that demanded their immediate repatriation to Syria.
“It is so upsetting when people talk about sending Syrians back because we’re humans and not objects, just to be picked up and put somewhere else,” she said. “We have a life here [in Turkey].”
Many Syrians agree that it is not safe to return since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his authoritarian government are still oppressing the people. The decision to leave Syria was not an easy one, and they feel compelled to live as refugees elsewhere until their country is safe.
However Turkish politicians have repeatedly blamed Syrians for rising crimes and the social and economic woes of the country.
Activist Syrians have said while this blame was not always without merit, it would be wrong to blame the Syrian community for a few isolated incidents. “Yes, there are times when Syrians have been involved in crime, but it makes no sense to frame all Syrians as criminals and use this as a reason to send them back,” said Elgazi.
Ahead of the elections Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who long pursued an open-door policy toward refugees, signaled a change in stance, saying his government is making efforts for the dignified return of Syrians to their homeland.
Last year Erdoğan announced that his government was working on a new project to ensure the “voluntary” return home of 1 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. He reiterated this promise in a live television interview on Monday.
Turkey, under its temporary protection regime, has granted 3,535,898 Syrian nationals the right to legally stay in the country. The vast majority, 3,488,373, of them live outside camps, while 47,525 Syrians reside in seven camps, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
A total of 201,471 Syrians who were granted temporary protection status in Turkey left the country in 2022, according to an annual monitoring report released by the IOM.