Turkish women’s organizations say authorities turn blind eye to sexual harassment from local men but quick to blame migrants

Following accusations that migrant men are sexually harassing Turkish women, women’s organizations said authorities were quick to blame migrants but turned a blind eye to harassment committed by local men.

Speaking to the Duvar news website, the women’s organizations said migrants were used as scapegoats but that local men were often granted impunity when it came to sexual harassment cases.

“Nationalists and racists are using these claims against migrant men to spread their anti-migrant sentiment,” said Hülya Gülbahar from the Women’s Platform for Equality (EŞİK). “However, the religion, ethnicity and language of a harasser are irrelevant. The authorities need to develop better policies to prevent sexual harassment and hold the perpetrators accountable.”

According to Gülbahar, women are being used in political debates against migrants. However, due to a lack of accountability, men in Turkey have long felt free to sexually harass and rape women.

Lawyer and activist Sema Kendirici Uğurman said sexual harassment cannot be a reason to deport a migrant or refugee. “Of course perpetrators need to be held accountable and face some sort of punishment,” she said. “But deportation is never the solution. How can this prevent further harassment incidents?”

Uğurman added that currently opposition politicians had taken accusations against migrant men too far and were at the point of starting a “public lynching.”

Activist Çağla Akdere said migrants were caught in the middle of a political conflict between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the opposition. “Turkish women face many problems, from domestic violence to femicide. However, these topics are never brought to the parliament, while sexual harassment by migrants is currently a hot topic. It is obvious that politicians are trying to use this as legitimate grounds to rid the country of migrants,” she said.

Akdere pointed out that migrant women and children were often victims of harassment but that the authorities had not developed policies to prevent such incidents. Moreover, the culprits were seldom held accountable in such cases.

In the past few weeks, videos of migrants stalking and disturbing women on the streets of Istanbul were disseminated on social media and various news outlets. The videos caused a major public uproar as large numbers of women claimed they no longer felt safe in the city.

Many people said migrants from such countries as Afghanistan and Pakistan were not culturally compatible with Turks and life in Turkey and posed a great threat to women.

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.

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