Eyewitness: Syrians’ house torched by locals in Istanbul
Fırat Alkaç – ISTANBULA building housing dozens of Syrians in Istanbul’s Başakşehir district was set ablaze late May 9, allegedly by locals upon rumors that a Syrian boy had stabbed a Turkish boy in the Güvercintepe neighborhood, which has been recently populated by Syrians who have fled the conflict in their country.
The quarrel started after news circulated around the neighborhood that a Turkish teenager had been stabbed by a Syrian teenager. People shot or threw stones at shops owned by Syrians in the morning on May 9. Later that day, a fire broke out at a two-story building on Ahmet Yesevi Street where around 30 young Syrians were living, allegedly caused by the locals whom the Syrians had quarreled with.
A fire engine and firemen were blocked from approaching the blaze by a group of locals, who threw stones to prevent the fire from being extinguished. The group later allowed the fire engine to enter the street after riot police intervened.
The ground-floor store of the building was damaged by the fire, while no injuries were reported.
A number of Syrians have already left the neighborhood after the incident. Mustafa Elbani, a Syrian buffet owner in the neighborhood, told daily Hürriyet that he was afraid to leave his house. “I came here with my family three years ago. Now we are afraid of walking on the streets,” he said. Elbani said some young Syrians who were living in the neighborhood alone were involved in the fight.
The village man of the neighborhood, İbrahim Dinç, however, accused the police of responding too late to the incidents. “The incidents started at 8:00 p.m. but the police came at midnight. There are 10,000 Syrians living in a neighborhood with a total population of 50,000; 20 Syrians are living in a house. The crime rates increased [after the Syrians came],” said Dinç, voicing the discomfort against the Syrians felt among the locals of the neighborhood.
Güvecintepe, a squatter settlement next to the huge residential sites in Başakşehir, has seen a change in its economic fabric with the inflow of Syrians. The average rents in the area have increased from 200 Turkish Liras to 1,000 liras. The salaries in the small textile workshops have decreased to 500 liras, as Syrians working illegally have accepted lesser wages, according to locals.
Metin Barışhan, a house renter in Güvercintepe, said some Syrians have formed a gang in the neighborhood and the recent fight between the children became the final straw of brewing tensions.