The Stream

Are Syrian refugees in Turkey being used as political pawns?

On Thursday, August 4 at 19:30 GMT:
For many Syrian refugees, life in Turkey has become increasingly difficult. Amid soaring food and transportation costs, public resentment toward the group is growing, and reports of abuse and violence are up.

Displaced Syrians were once welcomed into Turkey with open arms. But 11 years on, Syria’s civil war continues with no end in sight. And while Turkey is proud to host the world’s largest refugee population – 4 million people, mostly Syrians – the expensive endeavour is now a political flashpoint for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The Turkish lira fell 45 percent last year and inflation hit 80 percent in June – a 24-year high. Citizens are increasingly blaming refugees for taking their jobs and using up precious public resources. Ahead of the 2023 elections, Erdoğan challengers are capitalising on growing anti-refugee sentiment by pledging to relocate Syrians back to their home country en masse.

To deflect criticism of the government’s economic policies, the ruling party has also taken up the refugee question. Erdoğan himself has talked about plans to send at least 1 million refugees back across the border, in “safe zones” that Turkey has spent billions of dollars securing.

But many Syrians worry that it’s not safe enough to go back yet. Despite growing xenophobia toward them, some say they would rather remain in Turkey, where there is relative stability and more opportunities. Others who are tired of being mistreated say they would prefer going to Europe, but are finding it hard to get visas.

Speaking to Al Jazeera recently, Mohammed Hawasli, a sales manager of a mobile phone company living in Istanbul, said: “We all would love to return to our country and build it up again. But we left for a reason, because Syria is at war with itself and we wanted to live in dignity.”

In this episode of The Stream we ask, are Syrian refugees in Turkey being used as political pawns? Join the conversation.

In this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Yusuf Erim, @YusufErim34
Editor-at-Large, TRT World

Ömer Özkizilcik, @OmerOzkizilcik
Foreign Policy & Security Analyst

Sarah Hunaidi, @sarahunaidi
Writer & activist