Tensions fuel debate over Syrian refugees

Tensions fuel debate over Syrian refugees

Tensions fuel debate over Syrian refugees

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu

The rapid increase in the number of Syrians fleeing from ongoing violence has brought many of the problems surrounding hosting refugees to the surface as residents living in the host cities of refugee camps begin to reveal their discontent.

While a member of the main Syrian opposition group blames the diversity of Syrian refugees for recent incidents, some locals in the southern city of Hatay say they are fed up.

“Two of the rebels climbed to the balcony of our house and started to observe the house,” a local from Dikmece village, located 10 kilometers away from the city center, was quoted as saying in daily Hürriyet yesterday. “We complain to the authorities but nothing happens.”

Adding to the already tense situation was the refusal of main opposition deputies’ visit to a refugee camp.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu slammed the government yesterday after a party delegation was not allowed to visit the Apaydın refugee camp near Hatay, which hosts defected Syrian soldiers.

“I sent our deputies to check out the camp, which was said to be full of agents and spies,” Kılıçdaroğlu said while in the central Anatolian province of Afyonkarahisar. “But the authorities said you cannot enter this camp. Now I expect an answer from the government: ‘What is in that camp? Who are you training in that camp? Are you raising men to spill Muslims’ blood?’”

Kocaeli deputy Hurşit Güneş said they couldn’t get the required authorization from the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD). “There are claims over this camp that defected soldiers are being trained and given weapons and sent back to Syria,” Güneş said, adding that he will follow up the issue when he returns to Ankara.

Turkey is currently home to nearly 80,000 Syrians who have fled violence in their country since March 2011. Turkey representative of the Syrian National Council (SNC) said the number of Syrian pro-government militiamen who fled to Turkey during the heavy clashes in Aleppo have increased rapidly in the last 10 days.

Regarding the recent news reports that locals of the southern city of Hatay were causing disturbance in the city, Khaled Khoja said there were some skirmishes between local villagers and Syrian refugees here and there, but that it would be a mistake to reflect these incidents as a “general fact.”

“Especially after the heavy clashes in Aleppo; many pro-al-Assad militiamen have also fled to Turkey. The Turkish government would not be able to know who was pro-government or who was anti. They accept all the refugees who said they escaped from the violence. And right now there are many Shabbihas staying in these refugee camps in the southern cities of Hatay and Kilis,” Khoja told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.

Khoja said besides pro-Assad forces, there are all kinds of ethnic groups staying in the refugee camps in Turkey. “There might sometimes be skirmishes and disturbances because of this mixed social structure in these camps, however this must not be generalized,” he said.

İpek Yezdani contributed this report from the Istanbul bureau.