This country’s population has grown by 1 million because we now live with Syrians. Obviously, this will be the case for a long time to come, because so long as Assad doesn’t leave they can’t go back home and Assad has no intention of leaving. Whether we want it or not we are going to live together in Gaziantep, Hatay, Sanliurfa, Adana, Ankara and Istanbul. Fine, we are going to live together, but how?
In Istanbul’s Taksim, Talimhane and Nisantasi districts, the number of people living in the streets and begging increases by the day. Most of the beggars are children, even babies. To see children jumping on passing cars creating dangers and government officials just watching is a common sight.
Leave that aside and look at the widespread news reports of “Syrians attack” or “Syrians mug.” The results could be disastrous.
The other day in Ankara when reports came out that Syrians mugged someone, local people stoned the building Syrians lived in and set it alight. Violence escalated, many were wounded and detained. There is increasing resentment of Syrians and they are being marginalized. This is dangerous for both sides.
True, Turkey opened its doors to save these people. But no steps were taken to build a sentiment of solidarity with Turkish society. If it continues like this, and the state doesn’t take steps soon, ordinary Turks will start treating the Syrians living in the streets as “dangerous foreigners.” Both sides are then likely to ignore the basic rules of being civilized. It is definitely time to debate what needs to be done.
Sociologist Ferhat Kentel says: “Ideologically we have been indoctrinated to think in terms of as black and white, us and them. That Syrian who mugged in Ankara could have been someone suffering from poverty, trauma or anger. Sadly, we don’t see him as an individual, but as a Syrian. That quickly becomes ‘Death to Syrians!’ The situation could become more complicated. Just as there is racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia in all corners of the world, we too might be facing increasing racism against Syrians. This anger could even become lynching and massacres of the Syrians.”
Kentel added: “There is a spreading perception in poor segments of Turkey that Syrians are stealing their jobs. This is scary. All weak actors tend to blame the easiest targets as the cause of their misery. Instead of taking on the state, militarism or capitalist classes as the culprits, it is easier for them to designate scapegoats.
“This is how racism and xenophobia work in Europe. Instead of showing anger to the boss who hires cheap labor, the anger is directed against the foreigner who accepts such a job. Turkey’s state, civil society and media has lot to do to prevent targeting of foreigners and to explain that the true guilty ones are other forces,” Kentel continued.
Senay Ozden, a researcher and a founder of Syria Culture House Hamish in Istanbul, said: “The general belief is that there are more than 1 million Syrians in Turkey, but without any communication channels between the Turks and Syrians. This incites more discrimination. Unless communications are improved between the Syrians and Turks such attacks are going to increase. Preventing that is one of the goals of the Hamish House we set up together with Syrians. We want to eliminate the belief that the presence of Syrians is only an outcome of the government policy. We want to tell the Turks that it is wrong to see the Syrians only as ‘guns, war, beggars.’”
She added: “It is a gross mistake to lock up the Syrians in camps. Many a Turk I talked to as part of my research says, ‘OK, they brought the Syrians here. But they should not live among us. They should be locked up camps outside cities.’ This is extreme discrimination. Anyone living in cities with us has the right to be as visible as Turkish citizens and participate in our life. What is needed is to develop the environment for the Syrians to live in dignity.”
She then referred to rumors about Syrians, saying: “There is a rumor that the government is paying monthly salaries to Syrians. This is definitely wrong. The Syrians who live outside the camps, which is about three quarters of the total, don’t get anything from the state. Relief assistance in kind is handled by local and foreign NGOs [nongovernmental organizations]. To prevent such prejudices, rumors, and discrimination, the government has to be transparent and tell its citizens the reality.”
Lawyer Mebuse Tekay was more concerned about the status of children. “Begging is not a crime according to the law," she said. "But it is a crime to use children or mentally handicapped people for begging. In such situations, not the beggar but the person who directs him to beg will be punished. The question is: Why is the state allowing this to go on? There is no policy. All governors and police must be informed that there is a law which has to be implemented.”
Tekay went on: “They are already victims, especially children. Children don’t have to work, make money. This is banned. They have to go to school. The state has to look after them. The state has to provide employment opportunities for adults. If the state wants, there won’t be anyone begging in the streets.”
Tekay then asked what the police should do when they see children begging in the streets. “It doesn’t matter if they are Turkish or Syrian. They all deserve state aid. According to current rules, children found begging will first be taken to the Police Children's Bureau. From there, the child is to be sent to the Protect the Children Fund’s shelters. If the child has parents and is begging with their knowledge, then their guardianship should be annulled because making a child beg is ill treatment. I am afraid this process can be against the welfare of children. Think, to separate a Syrian child from his family and place him in a shelter ... may not be the right way to separate a child from his family.”
As for adult beggars, Tekay said if these are people who are truly incapable of surviving on their own, then they have to be taken care of in state institutions.
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