Hate speech against refugees increases on Turkish social media as a new wave of Afghan migrants arrive

Migrants walk along the hard shoulder of a highway as they make their way from the Iranian border the city of Tatvan, around 200km away, in the eastern Lake Van region of Turkey.(Photo by BULENT KILIC / AFP)

Hate speech against refugees on Turkish social media has increased recently, with a new wave of refugee arrivals in Turkey starting as the Taliban increases the territory it controls in Afghanistan amid a US troop withdrawal.

Journalist İsmail Saymaz said in a column in the Cumhuriyet daily that Lake Van in eastern Turkey had become a “sea of refugees.” Claiming that the number of refugees in Turkey is too high, Saymaz said the Turkish people were right to be angry and anxious.

Images of refugees crossing into Turkey at the Iranian border were shared widely online. One Twitter user likened the images to a bug infestation and said, “Wouldn’t you take precautions if bugs took over your house?”

Several videos that document – and often condemn – the new migration wave have been circulating on social media in Turkey and have sparked angry reactions.

Journalists, academics and activists who support refugee rights have been targeted by social media users and called “traitors.” Historian and journalist Murat Bardakçı said on a television program that there was a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and that refugees could come to Turkey for a safer life.

Bardakçı immediately became a target on social media and was told to “leave for Afghanistan if you favor refugees so much.” He was also called a pawn of foreign governments and a traitor who sold out his country.

Journalist Ruşen Çakır was also widely criticized for saying the refugees were not to blame but that ineffective government policies were responsible for the high number of undocumented migrants.

Turkish authorities have been detaining migrants at the eastern border in an attempt to stop undocumented entries to the country. Eighty Afghans and eight migrant smugglers were detained in Van on Thursday as they were crossing the border. Another 113 people were detained on Tuesday and sent to the district Directorate General of Migration and Management (DGMM).

According to Reuters, Turkish security forces have detained nearly 1,500 migrants in the last week near the border.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates 270,000 Afghans have been displaced inside the country since January, bringing the number of people forced from their homes to more than 3.5 million.

According to  UNHCR Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide. The country is currently home to some 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees along with close to 320,000 persons of concern from other nationalities.

There were officially 116,000 Afghans in Turkey in 2020, according to UN data. However, this figure only takes into account legal residents and is therefore largely underestimated. Turkish authorities estimate that Afghans constitute the majority of undocumented migrants, and associations suggest there are some 800,000 of them residing in the country. The situation of Afghan refugees is significantly different from that of Syrians, who benefit from protected guest status and regulated access to social and humanitarian aid.

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