A crowd of Turkish nationals descended on the Kucukcekmece district of Istanbul on June 29, ransacking Syrian-run stores. False rumors had spread that a Syrian male had harassed a local girl. The incident grabbed national headlines, fueling debate on the long-term status of Turkey's 3.6 million Syrian refugees. But it was just one of many attacks against the Syrian refugee community in Turkey.
On the night of July 15, 2016, as a violent coup attempt faltered, a mob of young men vandalized and looted more than 30 Syrian-run shops in Ankara's Onder neighborhood. The neighborhood is home to one of the highest concentrations of refugees in the capital, and its Syrian residents recall the attack clearly, hesitating to speak ill of their Turkish neighbors.
“They broke the glass on our storefront,” Zakaria Baraket, a 52-year-old Syrian from Aleppo and co-owner of al-Nakmeh restaurant in Onder, told Al-Monitor. “Thankfully, they did nothing more than that.”
Baraket said similar incidents have not occurred in Onder since, but he exhaled deeply when asked about the recent Kucukcekmece episode. “It’s not 100% safe here, it’s 50% safe. There are some things going on,” Baraket said, without elaborating.
Down Selcuk Street, where many Syrians have opened businesses in Ankara, another store owner said the welcome mat for refugees was wearing thin.
“In the beginning they would welcome us, donate clothes and furniture to families arriving from Syria, but now they don’t want to give us even a cup of tea,” said the store owner, who withheld his name for personal safety.
Since the beginning of the Syrian war, Turkey has received international praise for hosting more refugees than any country in the world. But eight years on, millions of Syrians remain under “temporary protection” status. Such a status excludes them from employment formalities and tax requirements imposed on Turkish citizens, drawing ire from locals who claim Syrians have unfair advantages when establishing informal businesses or entering the labor market.