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The Attitudes Towards Syrian Refugees in Istanbul

Edgar Şar, Nezih Onur Kuru

Our research "The Attitudes Towards Syrian Refugees in Istanbul", undertaken in cooperation with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Turkey Representation and TÜSES has been completed.

During Syrian Civil War, which led to greatest immigrant waves in history, 5,6 million people abandoned their country. 65 percent of Syrians who left their country (3,6 million) immigrated to Turkey. According to data provided by Directorate General of Migration Management in Turkey, the number of registered Syrian population in Istanbul is 496 thousand. According to United Nations Migration Agency’s research conducted during June-July 2019, either registered or unregistered, 963 thousand Syrian immigrants live in Istanbul. Such an intense flow of immigrants and the consequent transformations due to emergent mobility renders the perception of inhabitants in Istanbul toward Syrian immigrants an important point.

In our research conducted by face-to-face interviews with 1636 participants representing Istanbul dwellers in January, before precautionary measures were taken against coronavirus pandemic, various questions had been asked to the participants in order to retrieve their attitude and behavior towards immigrants. Among the questions asked, contemporary issues in Istanbul, threat perception regarding Syrians, attitude of the government toward Syrians, perceptions regarding the social status of the citizens and Syrians, prejudices and judgements about Syrians, feelings toward Syrians, tendency to participate in collective action against Syrians, policies on Syrians, social distance to Syrians, opinions on collective violent actions toward Syrians and tendency to approve or join such incidents were included as topics.

Additionally, due to strengthening partisan identity along with high political polarization in Turkey, participant responses to above question topics were analyzed relatively for fractions arising from party support difference. Taking into consideration the active role of contact with Syrians in inter-group relations, the findings were compared for individuals who regularly contact with Syrians for those who do not.

The participants who consider Syrians as the most critical issue of Istanbul occupies the third place in the list of most critical issues (10,5 percent). 62 percent of the participants reported coming across with Syrians in the parks and squares, 52 percent in the street they live and 44 percent in workplace. 17 percent of the participants live in the same apartment with Syrians. However, 78 percent of interviewees do no communicate with any Syrian in their daily lives.

Among the threat perceptions regarding Syrians, the lowest of threat perception is found in concerns about life-style (Family level 5,6- Country level 7,0). The fact that majority of Syrians are Muslims seem to alleviate the anxiety about life-style.

At family level, perception of security threat is higher than economic threat perception (6,5 and 6,0). On the other hand, at country level, economic concerns becomes prominent compared to security concerns (7,9 and 7,4). Current economic crisis, increasing unemployment and labor force competition appear to be the reason for above findings. The threat levels among İYİ Parti and MHP voters are higher than the average and found to be at a very high level.

When perception of economic threat is analyzed along with income level, the study found that as the income level increases, perception of economic threat toward one’s family lowers. Perception of economic threat toward the country is at same levels for all groups. Threat perception of individuals who come across with Syrians daily is at a higher level. On the contrary, threat erception of individuals who have a communication channel with Syrians are at lower levels.

78 percent of participants think that the government treats Syrians better than it does to Turkish citizens. This ratio reaches 99 percent for İYİ Parti voters and 82 percent for CHP voters.

Syrians in Turkey have gradually become the target of prejudices in the society. The findings demonstrate that medium and high level of agreement with the proposition that Syrians belong to a less talented branch of human race reaches 49 percent. Such a finding raises serious concerns. Moreover, it must be carefully scrutinized that tendency not to consider Syrians as a victim of war is shared by 36 percent of participants in our study. Nationalist party supporters (MHP and İYİ Party) manifest stronger levels of prejudices about Syrians compared to other party voters do. On the other hand, Syrians were depicted as ‘’ not civilized and reliable’’, ‘’a group of people with tendencies to conflict and crime’’.

When feelings toward Syrians analyzed, the study demonstrated that while anxiety is the most experienced feeling, hate is the least felt one among participants. However, the ratio of individuals that feel intense anger and intense hate reaches 33 and 24 percent respectively. It must as well be taken into consideration that the ratio of individuals who feel intense mercy (35 percent) falls behind the ratio of those who feel intense anxiety (47 percent).

In addition to threat perception, prejudices and negative feelings, the study reveals the significance of analyzing the tendency to join collective actions against Syrians. ‘’ Individuals with a high tendency to join collective marching action against Syrians’’ accounts for 34,3 percent of total participants, while individuals with tendency to take part in ‘’a collective petition campaign against Syrians’’ accounts for 42,6 percent. The ratio of individuals with high tendency to join a collective financial aid for Syrians stays at a low level with 7,4 percent. İYİ Parti and MHP voters are distinguished in their manner regarding collective actions. For individuals who come across with Syrians daily, the tendency to join actions against Syrians found to be stronger.

Participant responses to the proposition that refugee status of Syrians got terminated and that they should be repatriated equals to an average level of 6 out of 10. For all different party supporters, this level is above 5. Support for long-term residence and citizenship for Syrians is found to be very low.

While the tendency of vicinage and honoring Syrians for dinner stays at 50 percent, the same ratio declines to 45 percent for individuals who come across with Syrians on the streets on a daily basis. Social distance to Syrians is found to be higher for those who tend to pray less and for individuals with lower level of education.

In order to analyze individuals’ tendency to collective violence toward Syrians, a survey experiment method is applied, which included four different scenarios of violence incidence in neighborhood. The participants are categorized into four different groups according to crime type (harassment/bag snatcher) and the identity of the accused young person (Syrian or local inhabitant). The tendency to commit collective violence is high in two specific scenarios where the accused person is Syrian. Moreover, the tendency to commit violence is higher in harassment cases compared to bag snatcher cases. Lynch attempts toward Syrians in the society in cases of harassment or sexual assault must deserves serious reconsideration as our study reveals that high tendency to commit violence in scenarios where a Syrian is accused of harassment reaches 35,9 percent. During our field study, the participants were asked whether they consider the accused person as guilty or whether they approve a violent action against the accused or not. In scenarios where Syrians and an incidence of harassment is present, the tendency to accuse Syrians and commit violence gets higher.