Kocaeli residents stage demonstration against Syrian refugees in wake of neighborhood dispute

A demonstration against Syrian refugees took place on Sunday morning in Kocaeli province’s Dilovası district, Turkish media reported.

Demonstrators shouted they no longer wanted Syrians in the town. Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a lawmaker from the Green Left Party (YSP), said on Monday that Syrians were afraid to leave their homes or go to work. 

According to news reports, the demonstration was sparked by a neighborhood feud between a Syrian and a Turkish family. A claim that the Syrian family had confronted the Turkish family at their home led to social unrest and the widely attended demonstration.  

The claims were made by, Lütfü Türkkan, a deputy from the right wing IYI (Good) Party, who said there would be more demonstrations against Syrians.  

Gergerlioğlu tweeted that the claims were false and the Syrian family had not been involved in a confrontation. He called on demonstrators to remain calm. “Such demonstrations are very wrong,” he said. “I urge the people to stay calm and not get carried away by hate. We can’t demand the expulsion of a community [Syrians] just because there was a dispute between two families.”

Gergerlioğlu said such anti-Syrian demonstrations were unacceptable and could lead to bigger social problems. He criticized the governor’s office for not setting the record straight and making a public call to stay calm. Adding that it should be the governor’s priority to stop the demonstrators, Gergerlioğlu said he could not be reached by phone. 

Members of parliament said social tensions had been growing in Dilovası for months. Türkkan had recently submitted a parliamentary question addressing then Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu about the increase in the number of Syrians in Dilovası. Nail Çiler, from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), reiterated the growing number of Syrians and said they were not “integrating” into society. 

“This is not a simple incident,” Çiler said. “It is an indication of the growing social tensions caused by Syrians in the town. The government is turning a blind eye to these tensions and problems, but the people don’t want them here.”

Turkey hosts the world’s largest number of refugees, 3.7 million from Syria granted temporary protection status, and over 400,000 refugees and migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries.

Syrians have been at the center of anti-refugee sentiment, expressed especially on social media and often by political parties. They have been blamed for many of Turkey’s social and economic ills, and such accusations have increased as the country’s economy has deteriorated considerably in the last few years. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan long pursued an open-door policy toward refugees. Opposition politicians have resorted to racist and xenophobic speech, thinking they are criticizing the government. One of the worst examples came from Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition CHP, who promised to send Syrians back home if his party comes to power. 

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