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October 12, 2012

Syrian Refugees Resented by Some in Turkey

by Scott Bobb

The presence in Turkey of thousands of refugees from the conflict in Syria is causing tensions in some communities.  Residents of some Turkish towns with large refugee populations have called for them to leave.  But other Turks are welcoming them.

Antakya, a small city near Turkey's border with Syria.  Some residents recently protested against Syrian refugees here and some have asked police to remove them from their neighborhoods.

Syria's civil war has driven thousands of Syrians into neighboring countries. Tens of thousands of them have taken shelter in Turkey's growing refugee camps.  Others stay with family or rent housing in nearby towns.

Butcher Bulent Sakucoglu heads Antakya's branch of the leftist ultra-nationalist Labor Party that organized a recent anti-refugee demonstration. He says most of the displaced Syrians are not refugees.

"Syria and Turkey geographically are very close to each other.  We are the same people.  But those people who are coming here with strange long beards, strange looks, they are not Syrian.  They are either from Libya, or Egypt or al-Qaida. They are not from here," Sakucoglu said.

In addition, members of Turkey's Alawite community support the Alawite-dominated government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  They do not like the mostly Sunni Syrian refugees who tend to back the rebel, Free Syrian Army.

Some residents complain that the refugees have driven up housing costs and are taking jobs from Turks.  But most, like 57 year-old, mother-of-six Havva Aynur, feel sorry for the Syrians.

"I don't know why they would send them away.  If that happened to us it would not be good.  People here like them.  They let them stay in their houses. Their wounded go to the hospital here," Aynur said.

Nasireldin Ahme fled Syria after he was detained several times by government security forces.  He says the tensions in Antakya reflect the sectarian strife that is now part of Syria's civil war.

"The Turkish government is, like, stuck between two fires.  The Alawites in this town don't want the ((Syrian)) refugees here.  But if the government tells them to move to another town, the Sunnis here get upset," Ahme said.

Meanwhile, Syrians continue to cross the border.  Most Turks sympathize with their plight.  But many fear they have become a political issue that is being used by some Turkish politicians to advance their personal agendas.