Fatima Alzahra Shon, a Syrian refugee, poses with her children after an interview in Istanbul.—AP
Fatima Alzahra Shon, a Syrian refugee, poses with her children after an interview in Istanbul.—AP

ANKARA: Fatima Alzahra Shon thinks neighbours attacked her and her son in their Istanbul apartment building because she is Syrian.

The 32-year-old refugee from Aleppo was confronted on Sept 1 by a Turkish woman who asked her what she was doing in our country. Shon replied, Who are you to say that to me? The situation quickly escalated.

A man came out of the Turkish woman’s apartment half-dressed, threatening to cut Shon and her family into pieces, she recalled. Another neighbour, a woman, joined in, shouting and hitting Shon. The group then pushed her down a flight of stairs. Shon said that when her 10-year-old son, Amr, tried to intervene, he was beaten as well.

Shon said she has no doubt about the motivation for the aggression: Racism.

Refugees fleeing the long conflict in Syria once were welcomed in neighbouring Turkey with open arms, sympathy and compassion for fellow Muslims. But attitudes gradually hardened as the number of newcomers swelled over the past decade.

Anti-immigrant sentiment is now nearing a boiling point, fueled by Turkeys economic woes. With unemployment high and the prices of food and housing skyrocketing, many Turks have turned their frustration towards the country’s roughly 5 million foreign residents, particularly the 3.7 million who fled the civil war in Syria. In August, violence erupted in Ankara, the Turkish capital, as an angry mob vandalised Syrian businesses and homes in response to a the deadly stabbing of a Turkish teenager.

Turkey hosts the world’s largest refugee population, and many experts say that has come at a cost. Selim Sazak, a visiting international security researcher at Bilkent University in Ankara and an advisor to officials from the opposition IYI Party, compared the arrival of so many refugees to absorbing a foreign state that’s ethnically, culturally, linguistically dissimilar.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2021

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