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.

Kosovan women returned from Syria face house arrest

Updated 24 April 2019

Kosovan women returned from Syria face house arrest

  • Four alleged militants, all men, were arrested the moment they were brought to the country
  • The state prosecution said all 32 repatriated women are under investigation

PRISTINA: Kosovo prosecutors have requested the house arrest of 16 women repatriated from Syria, saying they are suspected of joining or taking part as foreign fighters there.

The women appeared on Wednesday in court in Pristina, a day after 10 other women were put under house arrest. None have been charged with a crime.

Four alleged militants, all men, were arrested the moment they were brought to the country.

The women and children were sent to the Foreign Detention Centre in the outskirts of Pristina but were freed to go home after 72 hours.

Ten women were seen entering Pristina Basic Court in a police escort on Tuesday. The court said in a statement later that they had been placed under house arrest on charges of joining foreign armed groups and terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq from 2014 to 2019.

The state prosecution said all 32 repatriated women are under investigation and more of them are expected to appear in front of judges on Wednesday. The prosecution has yet to file charges.

After the collapse of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, countries around the world are wrestling with how to handle militants and their families seeking to return to their home countries.

Kosovo's population is nominally 90 percent Muslim, but the country is largely secular in outlook. More than 300 of its citizens travelled to Syria since 2012 and 70 men who fought alongside militant groups were killed.

Police said 30 Kosovan fighters, 49 women and eight children remain in the conflict zones. The government said it plans to bring back those who are still there.

International and local security agencies have previously warned of the risk posed by returning fighters. In 2015, Kosovo adopted a law making fighting in foreign conflicts punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

On Saturday, 110 Kosovar citizens — the four alleged foreign fighters, 32 women and 74 children — were returned to Kosovo with assistance from the United States, the first such move for a European country.

Authorities say there are still 87 Kosovar citizens in Syria.