Migration experts have said anti-migrant sentiment among the Turkish public has reached a tipping point and could result in a pogrom.
Lawyer Ayşegül Karpuz and Dilan Taşdemir from the Media and Migration Association in an interview with the Bianet news website said anti-migrant sentiment had worryingly increased on social media. According to Karpuz, migrants were so worried about the current wave of anti-migrant feelings they barely left their homes and were afraid to send their children to school.
“Government migration policies are inadequate; however, while many people think they are criticizing the government, they end up sharing racist and xenophobic remarks on social media,” said Karpuz.
She added that in addition to the negative remarks on social media, migrants also faced problems due to the Directorate General of Migration and Management (DGMM), which had arbitrarily suspended their registrationin an attempt to send them back to Syria.
There have been reports that thousands of migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq have been illegally deported from Turkey.
Taşdemir said the media was instrumental in shaping public opinion about migrants. “When the media shares sensitive content, such as a video of a migrant harassing a woman, without being careful of its implications, they fuel social hatred towards the migrant community,” she said. “People who are already unhappy with migrants in the country start feeling hatred, and this hatred becomes widespread and normalized.”
Emphasizing that politicians were as much to blame for antimigrant sentiment as the media, Taşdemir added that many opposition politicians pointed to migrants as responsible for the country’s economic problems.
In a recent example, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), promised to send Syrians back home if his party comes to power.
Tanju Özcan, the mayor of Bolu province from the CHP, earlier said an additional water and solid waste tax 10 times the normal tax would be imposed on refugees living in Bolu.
Also speaking to Bianet, Nazeela Elmi, a Syrian migrant, said she often had to conceal her identity in public. “There is so much negativity circulating on social media concerning migrants that I don’t feel safe revealing I am Syrian,” she said. “People think we live off benefits or don’t pay taxes. But nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone in my family has a job, we take care of ourselves and pay our taxes.”
Elmi said migrant women were especially vulnerable to hate speech and hate crimes. “Migrant women do not even know where to complain when they are confronted with violence,” she said. “Even the police don’t really care when you are a migrant.”
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.
However, according to MEP Tineke Strik, Turkey cannot be considered a safe country for migrants and asylum seekers because it is not bound by the refugee convention when it comes to non-European refugees.
Hate crimes against refugees and migrants, who are blamed for many of Turkey’s social and economic ills, have been escalating in the country in recent years.
Turkish media including pro-government and opposition outlets fuel and exploit the flames of hatred against people who fled their countries and sought refuge in Turkey.