Syrian refugees no longer welcome in Turkey
From our special correspondent
Ten years after the start of their revolution, Syrians are no longer welcome in Turkey, and they feel it. Abdullah Mulhim, 70, who arrived from Aleppo in 2014 with wives, children and grandchildren, regularly experiences this: “Some Turks are nice and help us. But others don’t like us. In the street, we are constantly asked: “When are you going back to Syria?” “
Not far from there, the jewelry of another Alépin is recognizable by its sign in Arabic. It is now shunned by Turkish customers. Mohamed Hatib’s son does not dare say it in front of foreigners but, at school, he too faces this same ritual question for the three million (or more probably four million) Syrian refugees from Turkey. “I don’t blame them, sighs his father. They just repeat what they hear at home. “
At the start of the Syrian revolution, in 2011, the Turks, at the call of their president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, opened their doors widely to their ” brothers “ in religion. On both sides, everyone thought that it was only a temporary reception, as evidenced by the name of the device put in place to allow refugees to access Turkish public services. Ten years later, they are still there.
If the elderly dream of returning to their homes, the prospect is very uncertain: “When the war is over and security returns”, are they responding now, or “If the international community helps us to rebuild our homes, but also the roads and other infrastructure. “ Among the younger ones, many have spent the last few years learning the Turkish language and studying at university. So there is no question of leaving. “The first year, I spent my time thinking about my return to Syria, says Doha, from Deir Ez-Zor. But since then, I have forbidden myself to do so: my son does not know anything about Syria, and there, they have nothing, not even to eat. “
Unlike her family, Doha has no longer suffered any rejection since she learned the local language. “It will change if the Syrians are educated”, assures this energetic and talkative young woman. “I urge my Syrian friends to take lessons, because if they stay at home and wait for their husbands, nothing will change. “ Social workers employed in the rare public reception structures dedicated to refugees are also convinced of this: fluency in Turkish is decisive for what they call not “Integration, because the effort is based in this case on a single party, but social cohesion”, explains Ibrahim Dizman, head of external relations for the community center set up by the town hall of Sultanbeyli, the district of Istanbul which hosts the largest number of refugees.
He himself does not minimize the problem: in 2014, when this municipality then held by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) – the political formation of President Erdogan – started distributing meals, “Every day, residents came to ask the town hall why it was not helping the Syrians”. “Today, the same people come every day to complain that the town hall is helping ‘the Syrians and not the Turks'”, he regrets. In the meantime, the economic crisis has passed by, with its record inflation. In one year, the price of the same supermarket caddy has almost doubled, while wages or pensions are far from having followed. The other health crisis has not helped. Unemployment now exceeds 12%, and even 25% among young people.
Nicknamed “The town hall of the Syrians “, the community center spends part of its days responding to infoxes circulating on social networks: “The Syrians have an advantage at the hospital or at the university”, or “They get a salary from the government and don’t pay taxes. “
Sitting in a pastry shop with her sisters and cousins, Nurdan, a 22-year-old student, unknowingly takes up one of these antiphons: “The Syrians work with lower wages: because of them, the Turks no longer have a job. “ In reality, the temporary protection enjoyed by most refugees does not give them the right to work. Only a fraction of them have a work permit, requested by their company, the others can only be employed illegally, in catering, the textile sector or construction, “To salaries generally equivalent to half that of a Turk”, specifies Tahsin Gedik, in charge of the refugee protection program at the community center.
As the crisis hits the Turks hard, everyone knows that refugees will be, despite themselves, one of the challenges of the next presidential election in 2023. “Half the electorate supports Erdogan and the other half want him to go. Every voice counts and the refugee issue will rise again ”, feared Halil Ibrahim Akinci, the director of the Sultanbeyli community center.
Weakened, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is looking for solutions. In Idlib, the last stronghold of the Syrian rebels, he is trying by all means to avoid a Russian-Syrian offensive which would be synonymous with a new influx of refugees in Turkey. And its networks have been tasked with “Promote” from the Syrians present in Turkey the strip of land conquered at the end of 2019 on the other side of its border, pompously baptized “Security zone”.
Without much success so far. “If the Turks provide real security and a living, some will go. Not me. I don’t want to start from scratch anymore ”, slice Mohammed Hatib. Abdullah Mulhim does not want to hear about it either, for him and his family, unless they were ” strengths “, in other words if the temporary protection was ever revoked. This cannot be ruled out, whatever the outcome of the elections.