‘Biased views toward Syrian refugees widespread,’ academic says
İpek Özbey - ISTANBUL
There are “widespread misconceptions and biased views” regarding Syrian refugees among the Turkish public, said Şebnem Köşer from the Migration Research Center at Koç University (MiReKoc).
Turkey hosts nearly 3.5 million Syrians who have fled the bloody civil war in their country.
“Most of those refugees will continue to live here. There are nearly 480,000 children between the age of five and nine. Some of those children were born here while others arrived in Turkey at a very early age. They have no memories of Syria. Turkey is the only place they know,” Köşer told daily Hürriyet.
They should be integrated into society as soon as possible, she added.
Syrians who have high qualifications and skills and have been granted citizenship could play an active role in the integration of other Syrians into the Turkish society, according to Köşer.
She noted that Syrian parents first resisted the idea that their children should go to school and learn Turkish.
“Afterwards, they realized they will be staying here much longer than they initially believed. Thus, they are now happy their children can speak Turkish and that they are going to school,” Köşer said.
“The schooling rate among Syrian children in Turkey has increased to 62 percent from 30 percent in 2014. Yes, indeed 38 percent are not going to school, but this increase in the rate of schooling is still a success,” the academic said.
Köşer noted there are 560,000 Syrian refugees in Istanbul alone.
“The concentration of the Syrian population is high in certain districts, such as Sultanbeyli, Sultangazi, Bağcılar, Esenler and Fatih. Those districts are going through a transformation. Previous residents are leaving those quarters and Syrians are moving in. We can talk of the ‘ghettoization’ of Syrians,” she said.
This “ghettoization” may spell problems in the future and troubles in every field of life, such as schools, workplaces and communication, she warned.
“Uneducated, jobless Syrian youth and Syrians with no sense of belonging may be pushed into crime,” she said.
Köşer, however, stressed the crime rate among Syrian refugees is only 1.3 percent.
According to Köşer, Syrian children must socialize with their Turkish mates since integration will help overcome prejudices towards Syrian refugees.
Studies have shown the majority of Syrians are happy to live in Turkey.
“More than 80 percent of Syrian refugees say they want to live here, but they have also said they would go back in case of a regime change in Syria,” Köşer said.
However, she mentioned a study that revealed 86 percent of Turks think Syrian refugees should return to their country now.
“Turks believe Syrians take their jobs, the state provides aid to them and Syrians can go to universities without taking the entrance examination while Turkish students are left out. Some also argue the cultures of the two people are very different,” she said.
“These are all biased views. For example, Syrians also take the entrance exam. Aid to Syrians are provided by international organizations, several ministries and municipalities. Social media feeds these misconceptions,” said the academic.
Those who think Syrians should go back to their country have either never encountered a Syrian or have little interaction with them, Köşer added.
“We can live together. Some concrete measures must be taken. Syrians should be able to go to schools, have jobs or own their businesses. Those prejudices must be overcome,” she said.