Turk­ish an­i­mos­ity to­ward Syr­ian refugees on the rise, sur­vey warns


ANKARA: Turk­ish at­ti­tudes to­ward the grow­ing num­ber of Syr­ian refugees liv­ing in the coun­try have hard­ened, with many blam­ing the new­com­ers for job losses and a rise in ter­ror in­ci­dents, a sur­vey has shown.

The sur­vey by Is­tan­bul Bilgi Univer­sity, re­leased in Ankara on Mon­day, showed 71 per­cent of re­spon­dents blame Syr­i­ans for tak­ing their jobs, while 58 per­cent be­lieve the num­ber of ter­ror­ist in­ci­dents in Turkey has in­creased be­cause of the grow­ing pres­ence of Syr­i­ans.

Ti­tled “Turk­ish at­ti­tudes to­ward Syr­i­ans in Turkey,” the study was con­ducted in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber last year through face-to-face in­ter­views with 2,004 peo­ple in four fo­cus groups. Those sur­veyed were mostly sup­port­ers of the main po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

“In our own coun­try now, we are sec­ond­class cit­i­zens,” a pro-Kur­dish Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party sup­porter said dur­ing the sur­vey. “They all came and set­tled here, they ben­e­fit from all (our) ser­vices.”

Turkey is home to 3.7 mil­lion regis­tered refugees, most of them from Syria. Since the start of the Syr­ian civil war in 2011, Turkey has spent more than $30 bil­lion on the wel­fare of Syr­ian refugees, in­clud­ing health, ed­u­ca­tion and in­fra­struc­ture. The Turk­ish Health Min­istry also con­ducts vac­ci­na­tion cam­paigns and free med­i­cal check­ups for those liv­ing out­side the camps.

Some of these ben­e­fits given to Syr­i­ans have fu­eled an­i­mos­ity among Turk­ish peo­ple, with about 51 per­cent of those sur­veyed op­posed to giv­ing free med­i­cal treat­ment to refugees at hos­pi­tals funded by Turk­ish tax­pay­ers.

The study, con­ducted with the sup­port of the Ger­man Mar­shall Fund of the US, a think tank and grant provider, also found that 55.5 per­cent be­lieve Syr­i­ans pose a health risk.

“Af­ter the Syr­i­ans ar­rived, the num­ber of di­vorces in­creased,” said an­other re­spon­dent sup­port­ing the rul­ing Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party.

How­ever, ex­perts say ten­sions will ease if more is done to in­te­grate Syr­i­ans into Turk­ish so­ci­ety.

“We ob­serve some in­creas­ing con­cerns, and dis­tor­tion and dis­plea­sure among Turk­ish so­ci­ety due to the pro­longed un­cer­tainty about the stay of Syr­i­ans,” Ay­selin Yildiz, UN­ESCO’s chair on in­ter­na­tional mi­gra­tion at Yasar Univer­sity, told Arab News.

“But we should avoid in­ter­pret­ing it as ris­ing xeno­pho­bia, which is not the case,” she said.

“I be­lieve if the Syr­i­ans are prop­erly in­te­grated into the econ­omy through a de­vel­op­ment ap­proach, this will ease the pos­si­ble ten­sions. Ac­cord­ingly, we need a re­gional ap­proach and we need lo­cal ac­tors to be able to more ac­tively en­gaged in em­ploy­ment strate­gies.”

Since 2015, the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment has been work­ing to make it eas­ier for Syr­i­ans to ob­tain Turk­ish cit­i­zen­ship — a move that has sparked con­tro­versy among the Turk­ish pub­lic. Early last year, Syr­i­ans who were skilled white-col­lar pro­fes­sion­als with a univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion were given cit­i­zen­ship.

About 80 per­cent of those sur­veyed by the univer­sity said Syr­i­ans should not be al­lowed to ob­tain Turk­ish cit­i­zen­ship, while 86 per­cent said all Syr­i­ans should be sent back to their coun­try when the war is over.

In con­trast, a dif­fer­ent sur­vey re­leased in Novem­ber re­vealed that nearly 75 per­cent of Syr­ian refugees in Turkey hope to ob­tain cit­i­zen­ship, while 52 per­cent of Syr­i­ans want to con­tinue liv­ing in the coun­try.

How­ever, ac­cord­ing to the Bilgi Univer­sity study, in­ter­ac­tions be­tween Turk­ish peo­ple and Syr­ian refugees have been lim­ited. Al­though 69 per­cent meet Syr­i­ans in their neigh­bor­hoods, only 12 per­cent have a Syr­ian friend, and 5 per­cent visit their Syr­ian neigh­bors’ homes.

Of those sur­veyed, 87 per­cent were op­posed to their daugh­ters mar­ry­ing a Syr­ian, while 80 per­cent say they can­not do busi­ness with a Syr­ian. Nearly three quar­ters, or 74 per­cent, re­fused to let their chil­dren make friends with their Syr­ian peers.

While some of the sur­vey fig­ures are wor­ry­ingly high — such as neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes to­ward giv­ing rights to Syr­i­ans — in­ter­com­mu­nal con­tact and empathy among the Turk­ish pub­lic are likely to over­come the ap­par­ent xeno­pho­bia, ex­perts say.

“Liv­ing in the same neigh­bor­hood isn’t suf­fi­cient. Turks and Syr­i­ans should in­crease so­cial in­ter­ac­tion at the grass­roots lev­els by shop­ping and vis­it­ing each other’s houses,” Dr. Emre Er­do­gan, founder and di­rec­tor of the In­fakto Re­search Work­shop in Is­tan­bul, said.

For this to hap­pen, Syr­i­ans need to ob­tain suf­fi­cient lan­guage skills in or­der to es­tab­lish a di­a­logue with their Turk­ish peers, while so­cial projects should fo­cus on en­cour­ag­ing in­ter­ac­tion, he said.

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