Syrian refugees in Turkey endure more rejection ahead of elections

By Ilya U. Topper

Istanbul, Aug 28 (EFE).- As the 2023 elections draw closer, Turkish society has started to turn on millions of Syrian refugees sheltering in the country.

“Sometimes they get angry with me because I speak Arabic on public transport, they tell me to speak Turkish, but I don’t speak Turkish. It’s only been like this for two or three months, I never had any problems before,” carpenter Hesham Ghazal, who has been in Turkey since 2014, tells Efe.

Ghazal, 61, blames the growing rejection on the opposition parties because they have used the 3.7 million Syrians in Turkey in their election campaigns to attack the government of Islamist president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who opened the door to refugees at the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

“We face many tensions from Turkish society because they think that we take away their jobs, that if they cannot rent flats it is because we take them away from them,” refugee Bassem Maarouf says.

Maarouf came to Turkey in 2017 from Idlib, an area in northwestern Syria under the control of rebel Islamist militias, seeking a better future for his children.

His eldest daughter, an 11-year-old who was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, is currently undergoing treatment at a public hospital in Istanbul, explains Maarouf who works in a textile factory.

Unlike refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan, Syrians have free access to the Turkish public health system.

Salima Sadat, an Afghan refugee, expresses despair in her interview with Efe, as she holds her eight-month-old baby in her arms.

Sadat says the child, born in a private hospital in Istanbul, does not even officially exist because she has not yet managed to register him.

Sadat, who fled Afghanistan in 2017, is sewing clothes in Istanbul to make ends meet.

“I’m a seamstress, I can’t work as a nurse here, and I sell the piece of clothing for 30 liras ($1.65). So how am I going to survive?” she wonders.

Sadat talked to the Welthungerhilfe German NGO because she has been trying to move to a European country but says she cannot get an appointment with a consulate.

Many Syrians too think that moving to Europe or staying in Turkey is more reasonable than returning to Syria.

“I see my future in Europe or here, outside of Syria in any case. I don’t think it is going to improve there anytime soon. Maybe in 50 or 100 years,” says Ghazal, who had to leave his life in Aleppo, where he owned a house, a car and a workshop with eight employees.

For years, he had been working in a carpentry shop in Istanbul.

He says he felt very well treated and earned enough to live, but everything changed in January when he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed.

Ghazal is currently recovering in a center in Istanbul and lives on a monthly allowance of 230 liras that the European Union provides for 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

Ghazal is following the debates between the government and the opposition to seek some clarity on the fate of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Erdogan has been announcing for months a project to transfer a million Syrians to an area in northern Turkey where hundreds of thousands of homes are being built to accommodate them. However, it appears to be progressing slowly.

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