As violence spills into Turkey, Syrian refugees once again draw the short straw
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A video has emerged showing Turks lashing out at Syrian refugees just minutes after deadly bombings hit the Turkish border town of Reyhanli. A Syrian woman who witnessed the attack describes the turmoil her community now faces, explaining that Syrian refugees feel abandoned by Turkey.
Young Turks attack a car with Syrian license plates. Screen grab from a video posted below.
A video has emerged showing Turks lashing out at Syrian refugees just minutes after deadly bombings struck the Turkish border town of Reyhanli. A Syrian woman who witnessed the attack describes the turmoil her community now faces, explaining that Syrian refugees feel abandoned by Turkey.
The two car bomb attacks in Reyhanli on Saturday killed more than 46 people. The Turkish government has accused the Syrian regime of being behind the attack, which came three days after the Turkish prime minister said he would support a “no-fly zone” over Syria.
Out of all the countries Syrian refugees have fled to, Turkey is home to the largest number. Turkish authorities say there are 400,000 of them, while the United Nations say there are more than 260,000. The border town of Reyhanli, with 60,000 residents, is currently also home to more than 25,000 Syrian refugees.
The Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was among the first to support the Syrian uprising. This support has been criticised by some Turks, who fear the conflict would spill over onto Turkish territory, especially since the influx of refugees has caused security problems for local authorities.
Arabs, Christians, Kurds and several other minorities live on both sides of the Turkey-Syria border. Turkey is home to 12 million Alawites, mostly concentrated in the Sanjak of Alexandretta – now the Turkish province of Hatay – a province that in 1939 was given by France, which then had a mandate in Syria, to Turkey.
There have been decades of friction between the Sunni majority and the Alawite minority in Turkey. The last major incident was the Sivas massacre in 1993. Thirty-five Alawite intellectuals were killed in a fire started by a hostile mob. The tension between Turkish Alawites and Syrian refugees, who are for the most part Sunni, is thus an extension of the historical tension between these communities.
“They announced the names of the dead on loudspeakers”
Oum Abdo is a Syrian refugee living in Reyhanli.
I have been on Turkish soil with my husband and my five children for just over five months now. We are originally from the Idlib region, and this is our second place of exile. We initially left our village for Idlib before we came to Reyhanli, in Turkey.
The hotel where I have been working for the past two months is on the street where the attacks happened. The explosions were deafening; it blew out all the glass on the shop fronts, and I froze for a moment before realising what had happened.
Video taken just minutes after the two bomb attacks.
Everyone here is shocked, and Turkish people are taking their anger out on us. I have been locked up in the hotel with my family since Saturday – we don’t dare to go outside for fear of reprisals. It’s the same for all the Syrian refugees in the city; no one is going outside. Today, the tension has even increased, since they announced the names of the dead on loudspeakers, and we fear people will turn on us again. However, I understand their reaction: we are guests here in their town, and we’ve brought our problems with us.
Young Turks in Reyhanli attacking cars with Syrian license plates.
At the beginning, we were welcomed with open arms by the Turkish state and by the local population, who did everything to help us. But the mood has changed over the past few months. An attack on the Baba al-Hawa crossing three months ago reminded everyone that the war could spill over the border.
“The Turks are afraid of undercover agents from the Syrian regime”
Aid given to Syrian refugees is far from being sufficient, and it’s being reduced more and more. Our situation has deteriorated considerably. Like many Syrians, we rented an apartment in the centre of town. In Syria, my husband was a public servant, so we had a bit of money saved up, but we didn’t think it would have to last us so long. The first month, we paid 300 Turkish Lira in rent [127 euros] but, once wealthy Syrians from Aleppo started arriving, rents and the price of basic goods doubled. There are people out there who are trying to profit from our misery.
Today, my husband can’t find any work, and we’re broke. My five children, aged between five and 15, don’t go to school. There are a few schools that do welcome Syrian pupils, but they cost money. The schools in refugee camps are only open to the camp’s residents.
The Turkish state at first gave us some money, but they stopped doing so two months ago. The authorities are now coming down hard on Syrian expatriates who don’t have proper identity papers or passports; that wasn’t the case before. The Turks are afraid of undercover agents from the Syrian regime, and they have a reason to be. We’re scared of them, too … but now, we are also scared of the Turks.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Wassim Nasr (@SimNasr).