Amid Turkey election, a Syrian man’s murder stokes fear among refugees

Islam is photographed in Istanbul after his shut good friend Saleh Sabika was killed by a co-worker. (Alice Martins for The Washington Post)

After a marketing campaign marked by anti-immigrant appeals, Syrians fear about their future within the nation

ISTANBUL, Turkey — The marketing campaign posters promising to deport Syrian refugees appeared on the morning that Saleh Sabika was killed. They had been all throughout town by the point he started his remaining shift in a nation that didn’t need him anymore.

Grainy CCTV footage from the Istanbul sock manufacturing facility round 10 a.m. reveals a fistfight between Sabika, a 28-year-old Syrian, and a Turkish colleague. Not lengthy after, eyewitnesses stated, the colleague grabbed a knife from a close by restaurant and returned to stab Sabika within the chest.

He was useless by the point he reached the hospital.

“He wasn’t just killed by a weapon,” stated his childhood good friend Islam, who spoke on the situation that he be recognized by his nickname, fearing for his personal security.

“He was killed by the words of all those politicians who planted the ideology against us in people’s heads,” he continued. “It won’t be the last death like this.”

As Turkey prepares for a landmark runoff in its presidential election, the destiny of individuals like Sabika and Islam are on the poll. After years of financial disaster right here, Syrian refugees and asylum seekers have change into straightforward targets for leaders throughout the political spectrum, who contend that immigrants are altering the nation’s character and ought to be returned to their house nation by pressure.

Even earlier than election season, a rising tide of pressured deportations, police harassment and violent hate crimes had left many Syrians feeling underneath siege.

With nationalism rising, Turkey turns against refugees it once welcomed

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who as soon as welcomed Syrian conflict refugees to Turkey, has struggled to reply to public anger, vowing on the marketing campaign path to ship a million of them house. Ahead of Sunday’s runoff, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has gone a step additional, making the elimination of all Syrian refugees a core marketing campaign promise. In the early hours of Saturday, posters of the 74-year-old former accountant had been plastered throughout Istanbul with a new and ominous message — “Syrians will leave.”

When information of Sabika’s demise reached Islam’s household WhatsApp group, the 21-year-old scholar assumed it was a prank, and resolved to yell at him later. Sabika was all the time a little bit of a goofball, he stated, though his jokes had slowed not too long ago. Just strolling by the streets made him anxious, he instructed Islam.

Taha el-Gazi, a authorized activist from jap Syria, stated the obvious hate crime was his fourth such case this month. Days earlier, he had been reviewing the case of a 9-year-old Syrian woman kidnapped and killed within the border city of Kilis. The victims, he stated, are normally younger males or youngsters. Authorities in Istanbul stated that that they had detained a Turkish man in reference to Sabika’s demise, however offered no different particulars.

Syria’s civil conflict started in 2011. By the next 12 months, greater than 150,000 folks had poured into Turkey looking for security. “You have suffered a lot,” Erdogan told the crowd at a displacement camp in 2012. Turkey can be their “second home,” he stated.

More than 5.5 million Syrians — a quarter of the prewar inhabitants — in the end fled the nation, and almost 4 million settled throughout the border in Turkey. Some 3.6 million are nonetheless dwelling there, in response to the United Nations; Turkish officers say greater than 500,000 have voluntarily returned to Syria, although many are nonetheless internally displaced.

Since Turkey allowed refugees to work, they built-in shortly. By 2014, formalized safety measures provided them well being care and training. A short lived identification card, referred to as a kimlik, was meant to guard Syrians in opposition to pressured return. Turkey’s inside minister stated final 12 months that greater than 700,000 Syrian youngsters had been born in Turkey because the begin of the conflict.

But because the years handed and Turkey struggled with crises of its own, the welcome wore skinny. Mainstream media channels, notably these backed by the opposition, solid the refugees as invaders, and argued, with out proof, that Syrians had been taking jobs away from Turks.

Islam and Sabika grew up in Raqqa, a province captured in 2014 by militants from the Islamic State. They arrived in Turkey in 2018, staying collectively at occasions; by the beginning of this 12 months, each had seen their closest relations transfer overseas.

“Emotionally, I was the closest person he had left,” Islam stated.

Like many Syrians, Islam discovered Turkish however at occasions he wished that he hadn’t — now it was unimaginable to disregard the racist feedback that unfold throughout his social media. “It was almost a curse,” he thought.

For the 2 buddies, even the kimlik got here to really feel like a entice. It required them to remain within the province the place they had been registered, regardless that the roles there had lengthy since dried up. Sabika was one among many who traveled to Istanbul anyway to seek out work and reside within the shadows.

Hundreds of Syrians are detained for breaking kimlik laws every year, in response to human rights teams. Refugees are arrested throughout raids on their workplaces or properties earlier than being taken to one of many greater than 25 “removal centers,” partially funded by the European Union to maintain refugees from reaching its shores.

The most notorious is in Istanbul’s Tuzla district. A mutual good friend of Sabika and Islam’s spent a week there, recounting to them situations so powerful that one of many refugees cried at evening to be deported. “If you’re going to take us back, then take us,” he remembers the person pleading. “But don’t leave us here.”

Many deportees have told rights groups that Turkish officers have additionally used violence or the specter of violence to pressure folks into signing “voluntary” return varieties.

For many Syrians, going house is unthinkable. Rights teams have documented arrests, harassment and compelled conscription among returning refugees. Some have disappeared with out a hint.

By the spring of this 12 months, Sabika had discovered a measure of stability. He took jobs at two Istanbul sock factories — one would offer him with the insurance coverage advantages wanted to assist a kimlik utility within the metropolis, whereas the opposite would permit him to economize for a cellphone.

Sabika had been kicked out of a number of flats as a result of he was Syrian, Islam stated. Sabika’s newest shared room was cramped and his mattress was skinny, however he was doing his finest. He was proud to put on Zara fragrance, and on the morning of his remaining shift he had been cheered by the arrival of a relative.

On Sabika’s demise certificates, the time of demise is listed as 12:30 p.m. The trigger is just: “Injury at work.”

In a coastal city some 300 miles away, the information had reached Islam’s social media, and immediately it was all too actual. He didn’t even pause to seize a change of garments. He was out of the home in minutes, on the primary bus that might take him to his good friend.

The journey took 12 hours. Islam tried not to consider what would possibly occur if a policeman boarded to examine his papers. He couldn’t sleep. In Istanbul, he narrowly prevented a pair of law enforcement officials on the metro station.

He was first on the morgue when the grey day dawned. By 10 a.m., a small group of grim-faced relations and acquaintances had joined him.

With northern Syria divided by warring factions, the automobile carrying his physique must cross dozens of checkpoints earlier than reaching his hometown. A relative from the identical tribe had been the one to interrupt the information to Sabika’s dad and mom. For now, he stated, they couldn’t even grieve.

“Their worry right now is how to get the body back to them,” he stated.

Islam was nonetheless sporting the identical garments that he had left house within the day earlier than, and the dangers forward had been on his thoughts. Was it price it? The reply introduced him to tears. “I think Saleh would be happy that I came,” he stated.

After years of quiet wrestle, his good friend’s killing had made actual the form of fears he had all the time tried to not dwell on. “As a refugee you’re meant to go from an unsafe place to a safe place,” he stated. “That just isn’t the case in Turkey.”

Sabika’s physique was lastly discharged round 5 p.m., wearing a white shroud. Before it was positioned within the ambulance for its remaining journey, Islam wrapped his arm round his good friend and cried. He couldn’t accompany him all the best way house, even when he needed to. His kimlik can be invalidated on the Syrian border.

Alice Martins contributed reporting from Istanbul.

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