Turkish animosity toward Syrian refugees on the rise, survey warns

Civilans fleeing Afrin after Turkey said its army and allied rebels surrounded the Kurdish city in northern Syria, wait at a Syrian army check point in az-Ziyarah in the government-controlled part of the northern Aleppo province as they head to seek refuge in the town of Nubol, 26 kms northwest of Aleppo city, in this March 13, 2018 photo. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2018

Turkish animosity toward Syrian refugees on the rise, survey warns

ANKARA: Turkish attitudes toward the growing number of Syrian refugees living in the country have hardened, with many blaming the newcomers for job losses and a rise in terror incidents, a survey has shown.
The survey by Istanbul Bilgi University, released in Ankara on Monday, showed 71 percent of respondents blame Syrians for taking their jobs, while 58 percent believe the number of terrorist incidents in Turkey has increased because of the growing presence of Syrians.
Titled “Turkish attitudes toward Syrians in Turkey,” the study was conducted in November and December last year through face-to-face interviews with 2,004 people in four focus groups. Those surveyed were mostly supporters of the main political parties.
“In our own country now, we are second-class citizens,” a pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party supporter said during the survey. “They all came and settled here, they benefit from all (our) services.”
Turkey is home to 3.7 million registered refugees, most of them from Syria. Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Turkey has spent more than $30 billion on the welfare of Syrian refugees, including health, education and infrastructure. The Turkish Health Ministry also conducts vaccination campaigns and free medical checkups for those living outside the camps.
Some of these benefits given to Syrians have fueled animosity among Turkish people, with about 51 percent of those surveyed opposed to giving free medical treatment to refugees at hospitals funded by Turkish taxpayers.
The study, conducted with the support of the German Marshall Fund of the US, a think tank and grant provider, also found that 55.5 percent believe Syrians pose a health risk.
“After the Syrians arrived, the number of divorces increased,” said another respondent supporting the ruling Justice and Development Party.
However, experts say tensions will ease if more is done to integrate Syrians into Turkish society.
“We observe some increasing concerns, and distortion and displeasure among Turkish society due to the prolonged uncertainty about the stay of Syrians,” Ayselin Yildiz, UNESCO’s chair on international migration at Yasar University, told Arab News.
“But we should avoid interpreting it as rising xenophobia, which is not the case,” she said.
“I believe if the Syrians are properly integrated into the economy through a development approach, this will ease the possible tensions. Accordingly, we need a regional approach and we need local actors to be able to more actively engaged in employment strategies.”
Since 2015, the Turkish government has been working to make it easier for Syrians to obtain Turkish citizenship — a move that has sparked controversy among the Turkish public. Early last year, Syrians who were skilled white-collar professionals with a university education were given citizenship.
About 80 percent of those surveyed by the university said Syrians should not be allowed to obtain Turkish citizenship, while 86 percent said all Syrians should be sent back to their country when the war is over.
In contrast, a different survey released in November revealed that nearly 75 percent of Syrian refugees in Turkey hope to obtain citizenship, while 52 percent of Syrians want to continue living in the country.
However, according to the Bilgi University study, interactions between Turkish people and Syrian refugees have been limited. Although 69 percent meet Syrians in their neighborhoods, only 12 percent have a Syrian friend, and 5 percent visit their Syrian neighbors’ homes.
Of those surveyed, 87 percent were opposed to their daughters marrying a Syrian, while 80 percent say they cannot do business with a Syrian. Nearly three quarters, or 74 percent, refused to let their children make friends with their Syrian peers.
While some of the survey figures are worryingly high — such as negative attitudes toward giving rights to Syrians — intercommunal contact and empathy among the Turkish public are likely to overcome the apparent xenophobia, experts say.
“Living in the same neighborhood isn’t sufficient. Turks and Syrians should increase social interaction at the grassroots levels by shopping and visiting each other’s houses,” Dr. Emre Erdogan, founder and director of the Infakto Research Workshop in Istanbul, said.
For this to happen, Syrians need to obtain sufficient language skills in order to establish a dialogue with their Turkish peers, while social projects should focus on encouraging interaction, he said.

Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

The worshippers forced their way into the area ahead of Friday prayer. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2019

Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

  • The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area

AMMAN: For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab Al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities.

The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayer, defying the Israeli ban.

The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area, which has only been open during the past 16 years to Jewish fanatics during provocative visits to the Muslim holy place, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti and now a member of the newly constituted Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem, delivered a short sermon in which he reiterated that “the Haram Al-Sharif is all 144 dunums of land, including the mosques, prayer halls, courtyard musuems and schools within it.” Sabri said that Muslims will not allow anyone to diminish Muslim rights in the entire mosque area.

The Friday prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh went off peacefully in part because of an Israeli decision late on Thursday not to make any further escalations, a reliable source in Jerusalem told Arab News.

Khaleel Assali, a member of the new council who participated in the prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh, told Arab News that the mood was peaceful and upbeat. “It was a beautiful thing to be able to reclaim part of our religious site that we were barred from using for so many years.”

The deputy head of the PLO’s Fatah movement, Mahmoud Alloul, praised the unprecedented action by the popular movement in Jerusalem. 

In a statement published on the Wafa website, Alloul called on Palestinians to stay steadfast in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahmeh and to “continue to stand up to the occupiers and their repeated incursions in Al-Aqsa courtyards.”

Mohammad Ishtieh, a senior Fatah leader who is expected to be the next Palestinian prime minister, issued a statement saying that what happened in Jerusalem today proves beyond a shadow of doubt that all actions and decisions aimed at Judaization of Jerusalem have failed as a result of the steadfastness of our people in our eternal capital. Ishtieh praised the defenders of Jerusalem who screamed for justice and who again forced the Israeli occupiers to back down.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and a new member of the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Council, told Arab News that all parties participated and share this success. “Everyone participated and every party should get credit for this success. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa unite us.”

The popular protests that led to the breakup of the 16-year-old Israeli ban began on Feb. 13 when the newly constituted empowered and expanded 18-member Waqf Council decided to hold a symbolic prayer at the barred Bab Al-Rahmeh site. The Israelis responded by placing heavy chains at the gate and making arrests. 

After four days of arrests, Israel allowed the removal of the chains but would not go as far as allowing Muslim worshippers to enter. On Wednesday the Waqf Council called on worshippers to pray at the Bab Al-Rahmeh site. All five daily prayers were held outside the barred prayer hall. A confrontation was expected Friday, but the insistence of the worshippers on reclaiming their site led to the Israelis backing down, Jerusalem sources told Arab News.