How killing of Syrian refugee marks an alarming trend in Turkey

The murder of Nail al-Naif, 19, is the latest episode in an alarming trend of violence against refugees in the country.

Turkey hosts more than four million refugees, including at least three million Syrians.
Turkey hosts more than four million refugees, including at least three million Syrians [File: Kemal Aslan/Reuters]

Istanbul, Turkey – Turkish police have detained eight suspects over the stabbing and killing of a young Syrian refugee in Istanbul on Monday.

Nail al-Naif, 19, was sleeping in his room in Istanbul’s Bayrampasa district when a group of men broke in about 2am, stabbing him in the chest and inflicting wounds from which he died later that night.

According to al-Naif’s friend who visited the crime scene, the attackers, some of them who were armed, entered the building by claiming they were police.

Eight people, including five Turkish nationals and three Afghans, were detained as suspects by police in Bayrampasa, according to Demiroren News Agency.

The killing is the latest in what refugee rights activists say is an alarming trend of violence against refugees in the country.

On Tuesday, an 18-year-old Syrian man was stabbed as he walked in a park in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir.

On January 9, a large mob attacked a shopping mall used by Syrians in the working-class Istanbul neighbourhood of Esenyurt, an incident local news reports say was sparked after a Syrian man declined to give a cigarette to a Turkish man.

Seven people, including four minors, were detained after the incident, according to the Istanbul governor’s office.

Videos posted on social media showed hundreds of people marching through the neighbourhood chanting “This is Turkey, not Syria” and later attempting to attack Syrians inside another shopping mall, damaging the storefronts with stones and other objects that were thrown.

Police in the southwestern city of Izmir said at the end of December 2021 that they launched an investigation into the deaths of three Syrian workers in the city after a Turkish man admitted killing them.

Three young Syrian construction workers – Mamoun al-Nabhan (23), Ahmed al-Ali (21) and Mohammed al-Bish (17) – died after a fire broke out in the apartment where they were sleeping on November 16.

Although police initially said the fire was an accident caused by an electric heater, refugee rights activists pressed them to investigate after it emerged a Turkish man had previously gone to police to say he was going to kill the Syrians.

The following month, police detained the Turkish suspect who confessed to setting the Syrians on fire.

Turkey hosts more than four million refugees, including more than three million Syrians, whose presence has increasingly come under public scrutiny with figures across the political spectrum blaming them for the country’s economic crisis.

A Turkish court struck down anti-refugee measures by the mayor of Bolu, a city east of Istanbul, that were widely criticised for being openly racist.

Last year, mayor Tanju Ozcan, of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), put in place a policy to charge migrants and refugees in his city $2.5 per cubic metre for water, 11 times the usual utility rate, and 100,000 Turkish lira for marriage licences, describing them as measures to force Syrians and other migrants and refugees out.

Ozcan has since then faced a censure by the CHP’s leadership, but similar attempts by political leaders in Turkey to target refugees have continued.

Earlier this month, police in Izmir said they were opening an investigation into Umit Ozdag, head of the right-wing opposition Zafer Party, for “inciting public hatred” and “violation of privacy”.

Ozdag, who has previously claimed Syrian refugees are obese while Turks are living in poverty, filmed himself visiting a jewellery shop in Izmir, where he confronted the owner – a Syrian with Turkish nationality – and demanded to see his identification documents and licence to carry weapons.

Later, Ozdag posted the interaction on Twitter, saying the shop owner was a danger to Turkey and claimed there were “900,000” others like him in the country.

In another incident, dozens of Syrians, including a prominent journalist, were rounded up and faced deportation after Ilay Aksoy, a member of the opposition IYI Party, posted on social media complaining about satirical videos by Syrians about the Turkish economy.

After an online news outlet posted a video of Turks telling a Syrian teenage woman they could not afford to buy bananas while the Syrians were eating them “by the kilo”, some Syrians took to social media to mock the false assertion, filming themselves simply eating bananas.

“The information, given by the IYI Party, or the CHP’s Bolu Mayor, or Umit Ozdag and his Zafer Party, they all come together and make the refugees into one of the main problems in Turkey and some racist organisations or people find that a reason to attack refugees,” said Yildiz Onen, an activist with Hepimiz Gocmeniz (We are all immigrants), a refugee rights group in Turkey.

“I don’t think these are individual incidents, it is the political atmosphere in Turkey in the last three or four months that has created these incidents.”

Onen added that she was most worried that the incidents did not seem to get sustained attention from authorities or Turkish media despite what should have been a familiar anti-immigrant issue for Turks, given the pressure millions of Turkish migrants have faced in Germany in the past.

“When it happens against Turkish people in Germany, there are big demonstrations, political party leaders and the government say things about it, and they go out after the people who are responsible,” she said.

“In Turkey, meanwhile, you can see hundreds of people [in the mob] in Esenyurt, but only seven people are arrested.”

Source: Al Jazeera