Syrian refugees are haunted by ghost of racist attacks in Turkey

A sit-in organized by the Turkish “ Özgüder” association in solidarity with Syrian refugees in Istanbul - 6 July 2019 (Anadolu Agency )

A sit-in organized by the Turkish “ Özgüder” association in solidarity with Syrian refugees in Istanbul - 6 July 2019 (Anadolu Agency )


Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud

In one of the towns in Samsun in northern Turkey, the Syrian child Ayman Hamami was killed on 13 September, after he was stabbed in the heart by three young Turkish men who attacked him, his brother, and one of his relatives. 

With the incident raising questions about the motives behind it, the Turkish official voice hastened to quiet the debate via a video call made by the Turkish Interior Minister, Süleyman Soylu, with the child’s father,  and published by the Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu.

Soylu expressed his grief to Hamami’s father, saying, “I feel sad as if I lost a brother of mine. Do not worry at all. We will stand by you until the end; you are our responsibility .”

However, that incident was not the first nor the last in which the victims were Syrians in Turkey. Even though there were repeated official initiatives to defuse tensions and contain a conflict that might arise, talks continue about “racist” motives behind this kind of incident.

Similar incidents

It is not the only time when a Syrian refugee has been subjected to an assault that leads to his death. On the 17th of last July, Hamza Ajjan, 17 years old, was killed in a quarrel in the state of Bursa, as reported by the Turkish newspaper “Dovar.” In addition to that, there was a video that spread on social media, in which the young man’s father appeared and narrated the incident.

On 27 April, a police officer shot dead Ali Hamdan al-Assani in the southern province of Adana.  Adana Governor’s Office issued a statement the day after the incident, stating that the police teams of the Sihan District Police Department in the province of Adana shot the young Ali al-Assani due to not abiding by “the stop warning” of the police during an ID check as part of coronavirus partial curfew in the Sucuzade neighborhood.

Al-Assani (aged 19) was reportedly attempting to flee from the police due to the curfew imposed on those below the age of 20 years old as a part of the coronavirus restrictions.

A video circulated by Turkish activists shows a medical team and police officers trying to aid al-Assani after he was shot in the chest.

The hashtag “Where are Ali’s Killers?”  (#AliyiOElduerenlerNerede ?in Turkish) went viral on Twitter after the incident, and the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, offered condolences to al-Assani’s father, through a phone call in which he expressed his grief, even though that there were talks about racist motives behind the incident.

In addition to the physical attacks, on 30 June 2019, Syrian stores were attacked in the İkitelli area in Istanbul, as a result of allegations that a Syrian refugee molested a Turkish girl, which later turned out to be an incident of alterations through the windows of houses between two teenagers (a Syrian teenage and a Turkish teenage), who are 12 years old according to what the Security Directorate said at that time.

The severity of these assaults varies between physical attacks and verbal abuses, either directly in person or through social media posts or tweets, some of which are published by Turkish politicians.

What is a racially aggravated offense?

The United Nations defines the term “racial discrimination” according to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination as “ any exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

Social researcher Safwan Mushli explains, in an interview with Enab Baladi, the types of racist attacks and what makes some of them more severe, including attacks committed by ordinary criminals. Ordinary criminals are those who attack any victim without discrimination, and they may choose the refugee because he is not aware of the surrounding environment. This type of crime and attack is contingent on the country’s economic situation and unemployment scale.

Mushli said that the most dangerous type of these attacks is what is perpetrated by racists who belong to racist organizations in the first place. The seriousness of their crimes and attacks lies in the fact that they are organized and planned, not spontaneous, and it is difficult to capture the perpetrators or bring them to justice.

There is another type of attack carried out by some citizens who advocate or possess racially intolerant ideas with the refugees due to targeted propaganda. Their behavior is to provoke the refugee and try to clash with him or use hired gangs to carry out the attack.

The researcher added that Syrian refugees in Turkey face the problem of not actually recognizing them as refugees, as political propaganda names them as guests, the law places them under temporary protection. Some opposition parties also claim that refugees receive privileges unavailable even to the citizens.

Turkey hosts more than three million and 624 thousand and 517 Syrian refugees, according to the statistics of the Directorate General of Migration Management in Turkey.

The Turkish newspaper “Hürriyet” quoted the Head of Turkish Trade Unions (TÜRK-İŞ) Ergün Atalay as saying that Syrian workers in Turkey, until last February, received monthly salaries ranging between 1,500 and 1,800 Turkish liras ( around 194-233 USD), which is less than the government-mandated minimum monthly wage of 2943 Turkish liras.

The best way to reduce tensions between Syrian refugees and Turkish citizens that lead to racist attacks is by determining the status of refugees from the legal point of view; the refugee should realize their rights under international laws governing refugee status. The refugee should be aware of the necessity to master the language of the host country to be able to pass two-thirds of the distance on the path to effective integration into Turkish society, according to Mushli.

The researcher stresses that the refugees need to unite in civil and social institutions that can support them in voicing their ideas and challenges and making them more effective at the economic and ethical level in the community that hosts them.

What are the impacts of these abusive attacks on refugees?

Psychiatrist Muhammad Abu Hilal explains to Enab Baladi the psychological dimensions of these assaults, explaining that they fall within the framework of social psychology that studies and discusses the concept of racist intolerance.

Intolerance includes an intellectual component such as stereotypes and prejudices in addition to the negative feelings that the aggressor (an individual or a group) has towards the victim. Besides, there is also the behavioral component that appears through discrimination at the level of dealing with people or polarizing them to act.

Abu Hilal said that prejudices and intolerance are negative attitudes and feelings that people hold towards each other, but what distinguishes them is the extent of their emotional charge, which differs from one person to another. Meaning,  an increase in emotional charging here will lead to behavioral discrimination, and some may be radicalized to attack a person or a certain group of people.

Abu Hilal added that if the person is subjected to physical or psychological abuse from the motives of racist intolerance, this makes him vulnerable to psychological effects, such as anxiety, fear, and tension. He may reach the point of shock if the abuse is harmful and dangerous, in addition to a feeling of inferiority and a desire for isolation, lack of self-confidence, and depression in some cases. This may cause a state of reaction that creates in the victim a kind of intolerance and discrimination towards the aggressor or the class to which he belongs.

There are psychological recommendations for the aggressed person, which are manifested in preserving his safety at the moment of the attack. The person should deal with the situation wisely, in a manner that does not violate his legal status, so that the victim does not turn into an aggressor. People’s response to the attacks differs completely from one person to another. Some respond in an appropriate legal manner, and others just do nothing.

The victim may feel resentment against himself or his family. In this case, he identifies with the aggressor and views himself inferior and hateful as if he really deserves the assault he has been subjected to.

Abu Hilal stresses that if a person is assaulted, he should consult one of his relatives. He should seek assistance and advice as concealing these feelings may appear later in physical symptoms of psychological origin.

Initiatives to reduce tension

In an attempt to mitigate the effects of some attacks against Syrians in Turkey, several initiatives have emerged, whether by Turkish officials or civil bodies or by Syrian associations in Turkey.

On 17 July 2019, the Immigration Department of the opposition “Syrian Coalition” held a workshop in media professionals, jurists, and representatives of civil society organizations, intending to ease tension and rage towards the Syrian presence in Turkey, after cases of attacks on Syrian refugees.

On 6 July 2019, the Turkish Endowment Association “Özgürdür” organized a solidarity stand in the Fatih district of Istanbul. The participants called for slogans of fraternity with the Syrians and rejected the voices that were hostile to them.

On 23 July 2019, Syrian activists and journalists launched a media initiative under the title “I am a human being.” The aim was to address the Turkish public opinion to diffuse inter-ethnic tensions against the Syrian refugees in Turkey, after the spread of incitement campaigns against them, which caused a wave of deportation against violators who do not hold a “temporary protection” card in the states in which they reside.


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