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.


Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

Updated 30 min 16 sec ago

Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

  • Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington
  • It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past

ANKARA: More than 420 people working at a crucial military air base in southern Turkey have lost their jobs, with some analysts considering it symbolic of decreased cooperation levels with the US and as the Pentagon reconsiders Middle East deployments.
Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington. It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past, as well as hosting US nuclear warheads.
The Colorado-based company Vectrus System Corporation, which provides day-to-day maintenance and operation services at the base, terminated the contracts of almost half of its employees at the base earlier this month.
“The base surged to support OIR,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News. “The Turkey-based staff for OIR has mostly left. So, the base is going back to its pre-OIR level of people, and that level requires less contractor support.”
Vectrus did not reply to Arab News’ request for comment about its decision to scale back at the base.
Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said the move was largely symbolic as the canceled contracts related to logistical support rather than the US military mission.
“But obviously, it comes against the background of some tensions in the US-Turkish relationship and previous hints by Ankara that it might reconsider the status of the Incirlik base,” he told Arab News. “The Pentagon is reconsidering its deployment across the Middle East and it might be looking to become less dependent on Incirlik without fully exiting this crucial military air base.”
Incirlik air base has been used in the past as a bargaining chip at times of tension between the two countries.
“Turkey may re-evaluate the status of the Incirlik Air Base if the US imposes sanctions,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month in an interview with pro-government channel A-Haber, referring to the potential fallout from Turkey’s decision to buy an air defense system from Russia. 
Washington has threatened to use its Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act to punish Ankara for buying the S-400 system.
Seth J. Frantzman, who is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said reports of the US reducing presence at Incirlik, or challenges to the US presence there, have been growing over the last years.
“Whether these reports relate to changes or are just random is unclear and it is important to note that the large interests of the military and history tend to mean the US does not simply walk away from bases, even if it reduces its role slowly over time,” he told Arab News.
The US has invested heavily in the Jordanian Muwaffaq Salti Air Base to expand its presence there.