HarekAct’s Weekly Digest 26/03/2019

Racism against Syrians in local elections | Malpractice in police custody against Iranians | A graveyard for Syrians in Izmir | Claims for a birthright citizenship in Turkey | Critical perspectives on the EU-Turkey deal | Calls for giving a voice to refugees/migrants


Local elections on March 31 and racism

Kristina Jovanovski reports for NBC News about increasing racist sentiments against the Syrian population in Turkey. According to her report, Turkish people are blaming Syrians for higher job competition and are complaining about increasing cultural differences. Syrian people interviewed by the author report that they are facing racism on a regular basis, increasing their feelings of insecurity in Turkey. Both members of the AKP and the CHP have publicly called for a return of all Syrians to Syria during their respective election campaigning. Omar Kadkoy of Tepav think tank (The Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey) sees them as a “convenient scapegoat” and argues that it is the low number of job permits granted by the government which is responsible for employers being able to pay Syrians less in informal employment, “feeding into perceptions that Syrians are stealing jobs and lowering wages”.

Burcu Özkaya Günaydın’s report from the South-Eastern border town Hatay points in a similar direction. Having been the flagship of a prospering Muslim middle class after the AKP took power in the 2000s, the economic downturn of the town within the last years due to the war in Syria has left its traces. However, as a result of racist ideas, many people are blaming the presence of Syrians – who make up a quarter of the local population – for their situation. These anti-Syrian sentiments are being used and further stirred up during campaigns for the forthcoming local elections on 31 March.

Malpractice in police custody in Beyoǧlu

Two Iranian musicians have been mistreated at a local police station in Istanbul’s Beyoǧlu district, reported by Fatma Yörür for Artı Gerçek. The pair were detained for having exceeded their residence permit, and were reportedly assaulted in the police station. News of their mistreatment had previously been spread on social media.


On the occasion of the eighth year since the beginning of the war in Syria, Sevda Aydın reports for taz gazete about a Syrian man in Izmir working in a graveyard, burying refugees who have died in Turkey (in Turkish and German). More than 10,000 Syrian refugees have died within the past eight years, many during their attempted sea-crossing to the Greek islands. While the highest number of people who drowned at sea (471) was reported between 2014 and 2016, the real number is estimated to be much higher: only those people whose bodies have been found by the Turkish Coast Guard enter the statistics, according to Pırıl Erçoban of the refugee rights organization Mülteci-Der. The article also touches on the problem of Turkish citizenship law: the children of Syrian refugees who are born in Turkey are registered by public authorities as “stateless” following the Turkish “law of descent”. The NGO Halkların Köprüsü (Bridges for People) is calling for a change of the law to birthright citizenship in order to provide legal security to children of refugees.


In an interview with Gamze Kafar for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, sociologist Neşe Özgen criticizes the EU-Turkey statement on the occasion of its third anniversary for having isolated refugees far from public view (in Turkish and German). According to her, it has not only led to an unclear status for Syrian refugees in Turkey, but the heavy focus on them has also rendered other refugee/migrant groups, such as Afghans, Pakistani or people from African countries, invisible. Moreover, she argues that it has strengthened right-wing movements and has, in the public debate, reduced the lives of refugees to financial aspects, disregarding their human and ethical dimensions, refusing to see them as people with rights. While refugees are often exploited in informal economies, Özgen also criticizes the “refugee business”, as a new economic sector in countries like Greece and Turkey, which has been created as a result of the deal. By this she refers to the high amounts of money which are being channelled towards state administrations or government-friendly companies or NGOs (so-called GONGOs), partly in order to invest in refugee-adverse coastal defence mechanisms or security systems, feeding a migrant-restrictive industry and leading to increasingly brutal methods against refugees. She also warns that rising hatred in right-wing communities might lead to more attacks against refugees in Turkey, if the government does not act against it.

For Özgem, the EU-Turkey deal has laid the foundations for a complete abandonment of the right of the freedom of movement, as the EU enforces its border protection at the Western Turkish borders or even further West, and is also abandoning Turkish, Greek and Bulgarian societies to deal with migration alone. However, people are still managing to flee. As a consequence, in order to search for freedom and a life together in a civic society, she calls for a new regional politics that embraces the feeling of “having fled” as part of society and which provides refugees/migrants with mechanisms to participate in politics and everyday life, giving them a voice.