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Protests And Arrests Erupt Amid Anti-Syrian Riots In Turkey

AFP 20240701 34ZR88A v5 HighRes SyriaConflictTurkeyRefugeesProtest 1719913581 1

The Turkish government has called for calm after violence against Syrian refugees occurred in the central Melikgazi region and quickly spread to other areas. 

The riots started when Turkish officials arrested a Syrian man accused of sexually abusing a seven-year-old Syrian girl in the central city of Kayseri. Turkish residents overturned cars and set Syrian-run shops on fire in Kayseri on Sunday night after online reports of the crime, asking that Syrians be expelled from the country. 

The issue extended to the southern province of Hatay, where protesters set a Syrian grocery store on fire. Yerlikaya announced on X that “474 people were detained after the provocative actions” against Syrians on Tuesday. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the violence and accused opposition parties of being behind it.

There are over 3.5 million Syrians in Turkey, the highest number in the region. Initially welcomed as refugees during the Syrian civil war that began in 2011, most Syrians live under “temporary protection” status, and many have since become Turkish citizens. However, anti-refugee sentiment has been rising in Turkey for several years, particularly against Syrians, due to a severe economic crisis and soaring inflation.

Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, who reported from Istanbul, stated, “This is not the first time xenophobic protests targeting Syrians have occurred in the last three years.” The decline in popularity of Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) amid economic troubles and growing nationalism has contributed to these tensions. Umit Ozdag, leader of the anti-migration Victory Party, blamed the violence on the government’s allegedly “privileged” treatment of Syrian refugees. 

Anti-Syrian riots also erupted in Turkey in 2021 after a Turkish teenager was fatally stabbed during a fight with a group of young Syrians in Ankara. Hundreds of people took to the streets, chanting anti-immigrant slogans, vandalizing Syrian-run shops, and throwing rocks at refugees’ homes.

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