HarekAct’s Weekly Digest 16/04/2019

8th – 16th April 2019

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Restrictive policies towards Syrians post Municipality Elections | Increased securitization of Turkey-Bulgaria Border | Numbers of Migrants Crossings | Syrian Opposition Journalism in Turkey | ‘Voices from Samos’


Continued politicization of anti-Syrian sentiment following municipal elections

Representatives of both the AKP and CHP parties, newly elected in the 31 March municipality elections, continue to use anti-Syrian sentiment as a key platform to gain popular support. The recently appointed CHP Mayor of Bolu, Tanju Özcan, has followed through on delivering his two pre-election promises of 1) Cutting off municipal financial aid to Syrians and other asylum seekers and 2) Not granting them municipal permits to open businesses in Bolu. In doing so he is privileging so-called economic tensions created by Syrians as the main “issue” to be resolved, despite the economic revenue generated by unregistered businesses opened by them.

A number of NGOs and solidarity platforms have released statements condoning his policy pledges. HDP’s refugee commission released a statement against the move, saying that discrimination against Syrian asylum seekers is unacceptable. DSİP’s anti-racist organization DurDe gave a statement, “Syrians are our brothers/sisters: Say Stop the Racist in Bolu” in response.

A total of 44 organisations, NGOs, solidarity platforms, and federations, released a statement on 16 April.  “The decision is against the law and is a violation of human rights. They emphasized that access to asylum is not a gift but a right; that the Municipal Act covers everyone living within the municipal boundaries and, according to No. 5393 Municipalities Law Citizen everyone is a citizen of the town with the right to participate in municipal decisions and services and to benefit from the assistance of the municipal administration; that Özcan’s stance is in contradiction with his own party, CHP, which has stated that municipalities should play a more active role in finding solutions for refugees. The statement highlights that claims that Syrians are receiving money from the state are incorrect, and financial support from the Red Crescent (120TL per month) is only given to those who meet certain conditions. The statement concluded that Özcan’s discourse is tantamount to hate speech , which creates the environment for racist attacks and lynching.

The new mayor of Esenyurt, Kemal Deniz Bozkurt, claimed that Syrians had been attracted to live in Esenyurt owing to various incentives, such as education provided under the Municipality budget, implemented by the previous AKP municipality administration. He pledged to be “more disciplined in these matters”, and to open systems applied to Syrian citizens to Turkish citizens. Such language feeds into the widespread, and largely incorrect, belief across the country that Syrians are receiving preferential treatment in access to services.

Incumbent Mayor of Istanbul Imamoğlu, who is still waiting to officially take office while the votes continue to be recounted at the request of the AKP, has tried to give a more balance statement whilst still maintaining an anti-Syrian stance. He called for “pioneering policies” to return Syrians to their homeland, while also noting that Turkey should be working for peace in Syria rather than hunting for oil, demanding “don’t use your imperialist thoughts as a means of pressuring innocent people.”

Journalist Irfan Aktan has written about the commonalities of racist language being used by Neo-Nazis against Turks in Germany, against Kurds in Turkey and now against Syrians in Turkey, proliferated particularly through social media. He concludes “Racists use the same language, the same arguments and the same signs. Moreover, victims of racism also tend to use the same language against a weaker circle than themselves when they are fearful of oppression, destruction, alienation and exploitation…. The racism, which is fed and fed by the upper classes and the power of the poor, confuses the target, provides comfort to the rich and the powerful, protecting them from the wrath of the hungry.”

Increasing securitization of Turkey’s border with Bulgaria

The Bulgarian Interior Minister has announced  increased  police controls along the Turkey-Bulgarian border, stating “We are ready to resist this massive new migration.” This follows on from the false information spread by social media last week that the border in Northern Greece would reopen, leading to hundreds of mainly Afghan and Iranian refugees travelling to Erdine and the arrest of 950 by Turkish authorities.

Numbers of migrant crossings

Data from the Turkish Armed Forces General Staff indicates that the number of irregular border crossings from Syria to Turkey decreased between March 2018 and March 2019. During March last year, 23,665 Syrians attempted to cross the border into Turkey compared to 10,769 during March 2019 (source: twitter). However, despite the overall lower numbers there has been a slight spike in numbers in the second half of March 2019 which Omar Kadkoy, a researcher with TEPAV, suggests might be owing to military operations targeting Idlib’s de-escalation zone.

Meanwhile, six men, their nationalities unknown, were found frozen to death in Van’s border with Iran. It is thought they had perished recently, but it may also be the case that their bodies have only just been found after the snow melted.


Pelin Çakır interviewed Sadek Abdel, editor of the Syrian opposition online magazine Aljumhuriya[WU1] . They discussed various issues regarding the challenges of producing opposition journalism, particularly when living  far from Syria, the in-between state and waiting, his opinions on the growing anti-Syrian discourse in Turkey and the eighth year of the Syrian revolution. He suggested that “the borders between here and Syria are now crashed, everything that was in Syria is now outside and the world is in Syria.”


In a “Moving Stories” contribution from Samos, the plight of two asylum seekers, Abshir and Saad, who have been forcibly moved between accommodation, is highlighted. The two cases, Somalian Abshir who was moved from Samos to a mainland refugee camp, and Saad who was moved from his accommodation in Athens to housing provided by a Greek NGO, highlight different tensions and forms of discrimination. As highlighted in the analysis of their stories, the critical importance of place (home and locality) is being disregarded by various organizations set up with the aim of assisting them; asylum seekers are powerless in deciding how and where they live while waiting for the long and arduous asylum process; and while conditions on the islands remain outrageous, the conditions on the mainland are not necessarily better.

The author concludes by highlighting that the movement of individuals by NGOs, often against their will, can be degrading and psychologically damaging.