Sun. Jun 4th, 2023

Islam is photographed in Istanbul after his shut pal Saleh Sabika was killed, allegedly by a co-worker. (Alice Martins)

After a marketing campaign marked by anti-immigrant appeals, Syrians fear about their future within the nation

Up to date Might 26, 2023 at 2:55 p.m. EDT|Printed Might 26, 2023 at 1:06 a.m. EDT

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ISTANBUL, Turkey — The marketing campaign posters promising to deport Syrian refugees appeared on the morning that Saleh Sabika was killed. They have been all throughout the town by the point he started his last shift in a rustic that didn’t need him anymore.

Grainy CCTV footage from the Istanbul sock manufacturing facility round 10 a.m. reveals a fistfight between Sabika, a 28-year-old Syrian, and a Turkish colleague. Not lengthy after, eyewitnesses stated, the colleague grabbed a knife from a close-by restaurant and returned to stab Sabika within the chest.

He was lifeless by the point he reached the hospital.

“He wasn’t simply killed by a weapon,” stated his childhood pal Islam, who spoke on the situation that he be recognized by his nickname, fearing for his personal security.

“He was killed by the phrases of all these politicians who planted the ideology towards us in individuals’s heads,” he continued. “It received’t be the final loss of life like this.”

As Turkey prepares for a landmark runoff in its presidential election, the destiny of individuals like Sabika and Islam are on the poll. After years of financial disaster right here, Syrian refugees and asylum seekers have develop into simple targets for leaders throughout the political spectrum, who contend that immigrants are altering the nation’s character and ought to be returned to their house nation by drive.

Even earlier than election season, a rising tide of compelled deportations, police harassment and violent hate crimes had left many Syrians feeling beneath siege.

With nationalism rising, Turkey turns towards refugees it as soon as welcomed

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who as soon as welcomed Syrian battle refugees to Turkey, has struggled to reply to public anger, vowing on the marketing campaign path to ship one million of them house. Forward of Sunday’s runoff, opposition chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu has gone a step additional, making the removing of all Syrian refugees a core marketing campaign promise. Within the early hours of Saturday, posters of the 74-year-old former accountant have been plastered throughout Istanbul with a brand new and ominous message — “Syrians will depart.”

When information of Sabika’s loss of life reached Islam’s household WhatsApp group later that day, the 21-year-old pupil assumed it was a prank, and resolved to yell at him later. Sabika was at all times a little bit of a goofball, he stated, though his jokes had slowed lately. Simply strolling by means of the streets made him anxious, he informed Islam.

Taha el-Gazi, a authorized activist from japanese Syria, stated the doable hate crime was his fourth such case this month. Days earlier, he had been reviewing the case of a 9-year-old Syrian woman kidnapped and killed within the border city of Kilis. The victims, he stated, are often younger males or youngsters. Authorities in Istanbul stated that they’d detained a Turkish man in reference to Sabika’s loss of life. Native media reviews recommended that the combat had began over who ought to clear a rest room.

Syria’s civil battle started in 2011. By the next yr, greater than 150,000 individuals had poured into Turkey searching for security. “You may have suffered lots,” Erdogan informed the group at a displacement camp in 2012. Turkey could be their “second house,” he stated.

Greater than 5.5 million Syrians — 1 / 4 of the prewar inhabitants — finally fled the nation, and practically 4 million settled throughout the border in Turkey. Some 3.6 million are nonetheless residing there, based on the United Nations; Turkish officers say greater than 500,000 have voluntarily returned to Syria, although many are nonetheless internally displaced.

Since Turkey allowed refugees to work, they built-in shortly. By 2014, formalized safety measures provided them well being care and schooling. A brief identification card, known as a kimlik, was meant to guard Syrians towards compelled return. Turkey’s inside minister stated final yr that greater than 700,000 Syrian youngsters had been born in Turkey for the reason that begin of the battle.

However because the years handed and Turkey struggled with crises of its personal, the welcome wore skinny. Mainstream media channels, significantly these backed by the opposition, forged the refugees as invaders, and argued, with out proof, that Syrians have been taking jobs away from Turks.

Islam and Sabika grew up in Raqqa, a province captured in 2014 by militants from the Islamic State. They arrived in Turkey in 2018, staying collectively at instances; by the beginning of this yr, each had seen their closest kin transfer overseas.

“Emotionally, I used to be the closest particular person he had left,” Islam stated.

Like many Syrians, Islam discovered Turkish however at instances he wished that he hadn’t — now it was inconceivable to disregard the racist feedback that unfold throughout his social media. “It was nearly a curse,” he thought.

For the 2 mates, even the kimlik got here to really feel like a lure. It required them to remain within the province the place they have been registered, despite the fact that the roles there had lengthy since dried up. Sabika was one in all many who traveled to Istanbul anyway to search out work and stay within the shadows.

A whole lot of Syrians are detained for breaking kimlik rules every year, based on human rights teams. Refugees are arrested throughout raids on their workplaces or houses earlier than being taken to one of many greater than 25 “removing facilities,” partially funded by the European Union to maintain refugees from reaching its shores.

Essentially the most notorious is in Istanbul’s Tuzla district. A mutual pal of Sabika and Islam’s spent per week there, recounting to them situations so robust that one of many refugees cried at night time to be deported. “If you happen to’re going to take us again, then take us,” he remembers the person pleading. “However don’t depart us right here.”

Many deportees have informed rights teams that Turkish officers have additionally used violence or the specter of violence to drive individuals into signing “voluntary” return varieties.

For a lot of Syrians, going house is unthinkable. Rights teams have documented arrests, harassment and compelled conscription amongst returning refugees. Some have disappeared and not using a hint.

By the spring of this yr, Sabika had discovered a measure of stability. He took jobs at two Istanbul sock factories — one would offer him with the insurance coverage advantages wanted to assist a kimlik utility within the metropolis, whereas the opposite would permit him to economize for a cellphone.

Sabika had been kicked out of a number of flats as a result of he was Syrian, Islam stated. Sabika’s newest shared room was cramped and his mattress was skinny, however he was doing his finest. He was proud to put on Zara fragrance, and on the morning of his last shift he had been cheered by the arrival of a relative.

On Sabika’s loss of life certificates, the time of loss of life is listed as 12:30 p.m. The trigger is just: “Damage at work.”

In a coastal city some 300 miles away, the information had reached Islam’s social media, and out of the blue it was all too actual. He didn’t even pause to seize a change of garments. He was out of the home in minutes, on the primary bus that will take him to his pal.

The journey took 12 hours. Islam tried not to consider what may occur if a policeman boarded to verify his papers. He couldn’t sleep. In Istanbul, he narrowly prevented a pair of cops on the metro station.

He was first on the morgue when the grey day dawned. By 10 a.m., a small group of grim-faced kin and acquaintances had joined him.

With northern Syria divided by warring factions, the automobile carrying his physique must cross dozens of checkpoints earlier than reaching his hometown. A relative from the identical tribe had been the one to interrupt the information to Sabika’s dad and mom. For now, he stated, they couldn’t even grieve.

“Their fear proper now’s the best way to get the physique again to them,” he stated.

Islam was nonetheless sporting the identical garments that he had left house within the day earlier than, and the dangers forward have been on his thoughts. Was it price it? The reply introduced him to tears. “I feel Saleh could be joyful that I got here,” he stated.

After years of quiet battle, his pal’s killing had made actual the kind of fears he had at all times tried to not dwell on. “As a refugee you’re meant to go from an unsafe place to a protected place,” he stated. “That simply isn’t the case in Turkey.”

Sabika’s physique was lastly discharged round 5 p.m., in a white shroud. Earlier than it was positioned within the ambulance for its last journey, Islam wrapped his arm round his pal and cried. He couldn’t accompany him all the best way house, even when he wished to. His kimlik could be invalidated on the Syrian border.

Alice Martins contributed reporting.

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