Ece ÇELİK-İdris EMEN /Hürriyet
*This post was auto-translated from Turkish due to its length.
Immigration is a concept that will always exist as long as wars continue. After the 11-year-long Syrian civil war, millions of people took refuge in Turkey, and dozens of immigrant neighborhoods were formed in Istanbul. Together with my correspondent friend İdris Emen, we went to the immigrant neighborhoods to ask how the main actors of the refugee issue, which constitutes the main item of the Turkish agenda, were affected by these discussions. Aksaray and Yusufpaşa, where immigrants live heavily, witnessed a great change after the Syrian civil war. When we say restaurants, hospitals, telephone shops, tourism companies, exchange offices with Arabic writings, it is possible to say that immigrants now create a great economy in these neighborhoods.
Syrians are not the only immigrant group living in Aksaray and Yusufpaşa. At the same time, thousands of people who immigrated from Africa and those who came from Turkic republics such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan adopted Fatih as their new home. “What do asylum seekers say?” in Hürriyet yesterday. It’s not the first news we’ve made about immigrants. In recent years, I have periodically visited Fatih and conducted many interviews with immigrant tradesmen and immigrant associations. The biggest change I noticed in my last visit is that the district is getting more crowded with each passing year, its population is increasing and the nationalities living here are diversifying. For example, some streets are reserved for Somalis and some for Palestinians. From the attitude of the immigrants we talked to, it is immediately clear that they are disturbed and frightened by the anti-immigrant debates in politics. There is a great fear, especially in the tradesmen. Dozens of migrant shopkeepers, who did not want to give their opinions, politely said to us, “We would like to talk, there is a lot to tell, but we cannot. We are strong in our work. “We don’t have a problem with anyone,” he says.
They don’t particularly want to give photos. Shopkeepers warn each other not to make statements to journalists. It is possible to say that immigrants mostly follow the country’s agenda closely and are aware of the discussions. All the immigrants we talked to said, “We came here because of the conditions in our country. We built a business and a life here. If everything goes well, of course, we would like to return to our country.” In addition, the number of people who emphasize the economic vitality created by the Syrians in Turkey is very high. The Turkish of young immigrants is no different from Turks. There are those who go into business and gain serious savings, and there are those who go to university… One of the common complaints of immigrants is that all asylum seekers are put in the same basket. They say, “For better or worse, Turks should not see us all as people who get help and beg.”
Esenyurt, one of the districts of Istanbul that hosts the most Syrian refugees, has become a new starting point for refugees from different countries of different continents. They have their own shops, hairdressers, markets and even cargo shops. Employees are also immigrants. This shows that immigrants prefer to live in the same regions both to experience their own culture and to overcome economic problems. During the interview, we witness that almost all of the Syrian youth speak Turkish, and some of them even speak Turkish well enough to be able to translate for us. The elderly, on the other hand, can speak very little Turkish. Young Syrian refugees have adapted to Turkey better than the elderly.
Older refugees, who have spent a long time in Syria, are more willing to return to their country because of their longing for their homeland. Young people, on the other hand, say that they are not very keen on returning to Syria. Both sides have their own reasons. For example, young people from Aleppo and Damascus say that these two cities are still under the control of the Assad regime and that if they return to Syria, they will either be tried or be drafted into the military.
Another group we interviewed in Esenyurt tells that when they return to their country, they have to start their life from scratch and that it is very difficult. They say that their relatives who returned to Syria are facing many problems, especially unemployment. Speaking to Hürriyet, Abdulmühim Sallah said when he met with his friends in Syria that unemployment is a big problem in his country and that it is impossible to find a job to take care of his family under these conditions. Another Syrian whose parents returned to Aleppo said, “I often see my parents. Conditions in Aleppo are very bad. They can’t get hospital service. Unemployment is high. Everything is very expensive,” he says.
A Syrian businessman, on the other hand, comments on the debates about asylum seekers without giving his name: “We are very misunderstood on this issue. While discussing this issue, the problems in Syria are ignored. We want the conditions in Syria to be taken into account while these discussions are held.”