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Alleged sexual abuse of minor sparks anger, attacks on Syrian refugees in SE Turkey

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Allegations of the sexual abuse of a minor have triggered a new wave of hatred and hostility against Syrian refugees in Turkey’s southeastern Şanlıurfa province, with a large group of locals organizing a protest and throwing rocks at the windows of refugees’ shops, the Gazete Duvar news website reported on Wednesday.

According to the allegations, a 21-year-old Syrian baker identified only by the initials F.K. sexually abused a 10-year-old boy identified as M.K.N. in the Bozova district on Aug. 14. Handed over to the police by locals, F.K. was taken to court after his statement at the police station.

The Şanlıurfa Governor’s Office said in a written statement that F.K. was arrested by the court on Aug. 15.

After the revelation that the alleged perpetrator of sexual abuse was Syrian, hundreds of people took to the streets in protest. The crowd’s reaction then turned into attacks on Syrian refugees. Those who gathered to protest vandalized shops owned by Syrian refugees.

A sit-in began in Bozova, causing additional police forces to be deployed. When the crowd failed to respond to warnings to disperse, the police used water cannons and tear gas. The situation escalated rapidly, with some people pelting police vehicles with stones. The Bozova-Adıyaman road was reportedly closed to traffic.

According to a June report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), titled “Hate speech and hate crimes against Syrian refugees in Turkey,” Syrians have been at the center of anti-refugee sentiment in recent years, expressed in particular on social media and often by political parties. With inflation soaring in the last few years, they have been blamed for many of Turkey’s social and economic ills.

While accusations increased as the country’s economy deteriorated, anti-Syrian sentiment among the Turkish public reached a tipping point following massive earthquakes in southern Turkey in February 2023. More alarmingly, anti-refugee and anti-Syrian rhetoric has been picked up by opposition politicians who have resorted to racist and xenophobic speech, thinking they are criticizing the government.

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