Turkey’s decision to open its borders for those Syrians escaping the Bashar Assad regime’s oppression was a great move, appreciated by local and foreign audiences except for the Turkish far-right and pro-Assad marginal leftist groups. Turkish people embraced displaced Syrians and extended a helping hand, thinking they should be taken care of until the war was over. Nevertheless, the war did not end since terrorist groups and foreign powers intervened in the revolution.
A decade has passed since the first group of Syrians arrived in Turkey. Despite the majority of Turkish people showing discomfort with the long stay of Syrians and other migrants, their opposition never turned into anti-migrant sentiments. People do not approve of any policy worsening Syrian migrants’ conditions though they prefer them to return. Ordinary Turkish people must be separated from right-wing factions since their partial opposition is not because of anti-migrant sentiments but perhaps due to the sudden increase in the number of foreigners in their habitats.
On the other hand, Turkish far-right factions are hostile and aggressive to foreigners. Such groups are not different than other far-right groups in other countries in general, but they still have some unique characteristics that need to be mentioned. First, perhaps not all of them, but some Turkish people on the right-wing are seeking an opportunity to immigrate to European states, arguing that Turkey is not livable. Yet, they also do not want other migrants to move to their country. When this contradiction is asked, they answer that Turkish migrants are more qualified and will contribute to the country they move to. The argument is correct, but Turkey needs low-qualified migrants to work in factories or do ordinary jobs. The need is so much that business people are pressuring the government to keep migrant workers in the country.
Second, anti-migrant personas and parties avoid criticizing Bashar Assad, who is responsible for the refugees’ influx. In other words, not the Syrian regime but the Turkish government is blamed for the migrant problem, perhaps as a strategy to boost their votes during elections. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu had even called the residents of Idlib “terrorists.” The Syrian National Army (SNA) members are also discredited by right and left-wing groups. The Turkish army’s operations in Syria would be more difficult and deadlier had the SNA not participated. At least 1,200 SNA members were killed during Turkish military operations in Syria.
Third, their claim that Turkish soldiers die for Syrians is baseless and contradictory. Turkey hosts almost 4 million Syrians, and if the Turkish army withdraws from Syria, this number can double. While far-right groups and generally opposition parties complain about the casualties of Turkish soldiers, they have no solution to stop more migration from happening. The proposal that the government talks to the Assad regime are unrealistic because even internally displaced people who live in tents in Idlib do not return to their homes, fearing that the regime forces would kill them.
Fourth, some xenophobic people go so far that they do not bear seeing traces of comfort among migrants. For example, eating a banana or having leisure time on a beach is a sign that migrants exploit the country’s resources. Migrants work in more difficult jobs and earn less, so except for some migrant business people, few of them live in good conditions. What is more, migrants cover their expenses with their income.
One can give many examples, but those mentioned above are enough to see the contradictions and simplicity of reasons for migrant hatred. However, xenophobia is still gaining momentum in Turkey due to the success of far-right groups in generalizing individual actions/crimes via media. People not happy with the general course of the country easily welcome anti-migrant propaganda since they use it as a way of reaction to the ruling elite. It can be argued that whether the Turkish government can cope with xenophobic waves is not dependent on successfully handling anti-migrant campaigns but on solving more crucial problems like economic difficulties, which can then make the migrant problem a secondary issue.
First published in Daily Sabah