Istanbul developing broader hostility toward Arabs, not just Syrians - Haaretz

Resentment against migrants in Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul, has long been directed mainly at Syrian refugees, but it is now turning into a broader hostility toward all Arabs, said an analysis in Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Sunday.

"Anti-Arab racism is everywhere,” said Palestinian artist Nasreen Amirah, who moved to Turkey two years ago. “I am looked at with loathing on the Metrobus. I wonder why they want to be so hurtful ... It’s extreme. It’s a kind of racism I never saw in Gaza."

Haaretz Opinion Editor Esther Solomon reported from Istanbul, where she said resentment against Arabs in Istanbul was growing “at an alarming rate”.

Solomon said there were two focuses of anti-Arab hostility in Turkey. The first is directed at “rich and condescending” tourists from the Gulf, and the second at the “poorer and far more politically combustible” Syrian refugees.  

Turkey is home to more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees who fled the civil war that has engulfed their country since 2011.

The more than half a million Syrian refugees registered in Istanbul have inevitably affected the country’s financial hub, Solomon wrote, straining its services and increasing competition for jobs during an economic crisis.

Unemployment in Turkey is now at its highest rate in a decade, hitting nearly 15 percent, with youth unemployment 10 percent higher.

One Syrian refugee told Haaretz that the going rate for Syrians employed in unskilled labour was just over $100 a month, less than one third of Turkey’s minimum wage of $354 a month.

"Syrians, an easily identifiable minority with fragile legal standing and no political representation, have become serial targets of xenophobic rhetoric and violence,” the article said.

Many Turks also accuse Syrian refugees of changing the character of the city by importing Arabic, evident in the increasing number of signs belonging to Syrian businesses.

The Istanbul governor’s office this month began work to limit Arabic shop signs in the city in order to ensure conformity to the rule that 75 percent are in Turkish.

Political parties have also voiced their frustration with the increasing presence of Arabs in the country.

The deputy chairman of the centre-right nationalist Good Party declared that Turkey was in danger of becoming a Middle Eastern country.

Even Istanbul’s new fresh-faced opposition mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu, praised for his inclusive platform, promised that Syrians would be sent home to a safe Syria.


A 2017 survey by Istanbul Bilgi University found 86 percent of the city’s non-Syrian residents wanted Syrians to return home when the civil war ends.


Doguş Şimsek, a migration expert from Koc University, told Haaretz that Syrian refugees in Turkey were generally seen as "criminals, beggars, burglars, exploiters, prostitutes, as tools for politics - but not as individuals".