Amid Turkey election, a Syrian man’s homicide stokes worry amongst refugees


Islam is photographed in Istanbul after his shut buddy Saleh Sabika was killed by a co-worker. (Alice Martins for The Washington Put up)

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

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. exhibits 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 useless by the point he reached the hospital.

“He wasn’t simply killed by a weapon,” stated his childhood buddy 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 folks’s heads,” he continued. “It received’t be the final dying 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 turn into simple targets for leaders throughout the political spectrum, who contend that immigrants are altering the nation’s character and needs to be returned to their dwelling nation by pressure.

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

With nationalism rising, Turkey turns against refugees it once welcomed

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who as soon as welcomed Syrian battle refugees to Turkey, has struggled to answer public anger, vowing on the marketing campaign path to ship one million of them dwelling. Forward of Sunday’s runoff, opposition leader 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 go away.”

When information of Sabika’s dying reached Islam’s household WhatsApp group, the 21-year-old scholar assumed it was a prank, and resolved to yell at him later. Sabika was all the time a little bit of a goofball, he stated, though his jokes had slowed not too long ago. Simply strolling by the streets made him anxious, he informed Islam.

Taha el-Gazi, a authorized activist from japanese Syria, stated the obvious 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 normally younger males or kids. Authorities in Istanbul stated that that they had detained a Turkish man in reference to Sabika’s dying, however supplied no different particulars.

Syria’s civil battle started in 2011. By the next 12 months, greater than 150,000 folks had poured into Turkey looking for security. “You could have suffered loads,” Erdogan told the crowd at a displacement camp in 2012. Turkey can be their “second dwelling,” 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 dwelling there, in keeping with 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 supplied them well being care and training. A brief identification card, referred to as a kimlik, was meant to guard Syrians towards compelled return. Turkey’s inside minister stated final 12 months that greater than 700,000 Syrian kids had been born in Turkey because the begin of the battle.

However because the years handed and Turkey struggled with crises of its own, the welcome wore skinny. Mainstream media channels, notably these backed by the opposition, solid 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 12 months, each had seen their closest relations transfer overseas.

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

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

For the 2 pals, even the kimlik got here to really feel like a entice. 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 every of 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 annually, in keeping with human rights teams. Refugees are arrested throughout raids on their workplaces or properties 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.

Probably the most notorious is in Istanbul’s Tuzla district. A mutual buddy of Sabika and Islam’s spent every week there, recounting to them circumstances so robust that one of many refugees cried at night time to be deported. “In the event you’re going to take us again, then take us,” he remembers the person pleading. “However don’t go away us right here.”

Many deportees have told rights groups that Turkish officers have additionally used violence or the specter of violence to pressure folks into signing “voluntary” return kinds.

For a lot of Syrians, going house is unthinkable. Rights teams have documented arrests, harassment and compelled conscription amongst returning refugees. Some have disappeared with out a hint.

By the spring of this 12 months, 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 help 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 residences 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 dying certificates, the time of dying 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 abruptly 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 might take him to his buddy.

The journey took 12 hours. Islam tried not to consider what would possibly occur if a policeman boarded to examine his papers. He couldn’t sleep. In Istanbul, he narrowly averted 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 relations and acquaintances had joined him.

With northern Syria divided by warring factions, the car 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 methods to get the physique again to them,” he stated.

Islam was nonetheless sporting the identical garments that he had left dwelling 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 believe Saleh can be glad that I got here,” he stated.

After years of quiet battle, his buddy’s killing had made actual the form of fears he had all the time 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., wearing a white shroud. Earlier than it was positioned within the ambulance for its last journey, Islam wrapped his arm round his buddy and cried. He couldn’t accompany him all the way in which dwelling, even when he wished to. His kimlik can be invalidated on the Syrian border.


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