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Amid Turkey election, a Syrian man’s murder stokes fear among refugees


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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

ISTANBUL, Turkey — The marketing campaign posters promising to deport Syrian refugees appeared on the morning that Saleh Sabika was killed. They had been all throughout the town by the point he started his closing 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 mentioned, 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,” mentioned 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 gained’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 change 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 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 towards refugees it as soon as welcomed

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who as soon as welcomed Syrian struggle 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 chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu has gone a step additional, making the elimination of all Syrian refugees a core marketing campaign promise. Within the early hours of Saturday, posters of the 74-year-old former accountant had been plastered throughout Istanbul with a brand new and ominous message — “Syrians will go away.”

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 all the time a little bit of a goofball, he mentioned, though his jokes had slowed lately. Simply strolling by way of the streets made him anxious, he informed Islam.

Taha el-Gazi, a authorized activist from jap Syria, mentioned the attainable hate crime was his fourth such case this month. Days earlier, he had been reviewing the case of a 9-year-old Syrian lady kidnapped and killed within the border city of Kilis. The victims, he mentioned, are often younger males or youngsters. Authorities in Istanbul mentioned that that they had detained a Turkish man in reference to Sabika’s loss of life. Native media studies steered that the battle had began over who ought to clear a toilet.

Syria’s civil struggle started in 2011. By the next 12 months, greater than 150,000 individuals had poured into Turkey looking for security. “You’ve suffered loads,” Erdogan informed the group at a displacement camp in 2012. Turkey can be their “second dwelling,” he mentioned.

Greater than 5.5 million Syrians — 1 / 4 of the prewar inhabitants — in the end fled the nation, and almost 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 rapidly. By 2014, formalized safety measures provided them well being care and schooling. A short lived identification card, referred to as a kimlik, was meant to guard Syrians towards compelled return. Turkey’s inside minister mentioned final 12 months that greater than 700,000 Syrian youngsters had been born in Turkey because the begin of the struggle.

However because the years handed and Turkey struggled with crises of its personal, the welcome wore skinny. Mainstream media channels, notably these backed by the opposition, forged the refugees as invaders, and argued, with out proof, that Syrians had 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 family members transfer overseas.

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

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 virtually 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 had been registered, although the roles there had lengthy since dried up. Sabika was one among many who traveled to Istanbul anyway to search out work and dwell within the shadows.

Tons of 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 “elimination 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 every week there, recounting to them circumstances so powerful that one of many refugees cried at evening to be deported. “When 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 informed rights teams that Turkish officers have additionally used violence or the specter of violence to pressure individuals into signing “voluntary” return types.

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 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 assist a kimlik utility within the metropolis, whereas the opposite would permit him to save cash for a cellphone.

Sabika had been kicked out of a number of residences as a result of he was Syrian, Islam mentioned. 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 closing 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 solely: “Harm 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 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 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 family members 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 mother and father. For now, he mentioned, they couldn’t even grieve.

“Their fear proper now could be the right way to get the physique again to them,” he mentioned.

Islam was nonetheless carrying the identical garments that he had left dwelling within the day earlier than, and the dangers forward had been on his thoughts. Was it value it? The reply introduced him to tears. “I feel Saleh can be pleased that I got here,” he mentioned.

After years of quiet wrestle, his pal’s killing had made actual the type 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 secure place,” he mentioned. “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 closing journey, Islam wrapped his arm round his pal and cried. He couldn’t accompany him all the best way dwelling, even when he needed to. His kimlik can be invalidated on the Syrian border.

Alice Martins contributed reporting.

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