ISTANBUL, Turkey—Life is returning to normal in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli after car bombs incited rage against Syrian refugees and the Turkish government.
People have criticized Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for hosting and helping the Syrian opposition and drawing Turkey into deeper conflict with Syria. The bombing on May 11 were blamed on groups linked to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The incident also contributed to the current protests raging in Turkey since Friday, May 31, representing a growing discontent with Erdogan.
The attack on Reyhanli, located close to the Syrian border, involved two car bombs. It left 52 people dead, with more than 140 injured and marked the biggest incident of violence across the border since the start of Syrian civil war.
Some uneasiness and anger was already directed at the Turkish government’s border policies and toward Syrian refugees who had easily entered Turkey. The Reyhanli attack triggered greater aggression toward refugees.
Syrian Refugees Bear the Brunt
Some protesters reportedly attacked Syrian-plated vehicles and assaulted refugees in Reyhanli.
In the first week following the attack, some refugees who felt unsafe in Turkey fled back to Syria. Turkish Minister of the Interior Muammer Guler said in a parliamentary hearing that so far 700 people have left Reyhanli after the incident. Some are reported to have returned to Syria, and some moved to camps in other Turkish cities.
During his speech Guler said that the Syrian rebels and refugees had no links with the bombing incident.
The number of refugees leaving Turkey has decreased with rising security, however nongovernmental organizations said there are still issues to be resolved.
“The war inside Syria continues, but we are not safe here either. Also the locals do not want us; we are being threatened,” Mahmud Abdul, a Syrian refugee, told the Hurriyet Daily News.
While some Syrians were afraid to leave their homes, some Reyhanli locals helped them by bringing them supplies. Turkish riot police were sent to Reyhanli from other provinces and kept guard in front of refugee buildings to protect them from angry mobs.
According to the latest records of the Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Office (AFAD), 193,767 Syrians live along the 560-mile border in 18 refugee camps. An equal number of Syrians are estimated to be living outside these camps.
According to the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a humanitarian news and analysis service of the United Nations, Turkey’s camps are among the best the world has ever seen.
“The country has shown great generosity, spending at least $700 million of its own money—up to $1 billion, according to some estimates—to accommodate the refugees,” said an article published by IRIN.
After the incident, a Turkish nongovernmental organization, Mazlumder (Organization of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed People), mostly known for its work on discrimination based on religious grounds, reported: “After the explosion that took place on May 11, 2013, a provocative and aggressive group was formed. They were beating Syrian refugees and had attempts to lynch them.
“Some have attacked Syrian-plated vehicles. They tried to burn the houses inhabited by Syrians. These people [who] blame Syrians for the bombing incidents are said to be members of ultra nationalist parties.”
The report immediately caused controversy, and government officials have denied the lynching attempts.
Reyhanli Mayor Huseyin Sanverdi admitted that there was growing anger in the town toward the Syrian refugees, but he denied that there had been any “attempted lynching,” according to daily Radikal.
According to the press advisory office of AFAD (Ministry of Disaster and Emergency Management), there has not been any serious collective, widespread attack to Syrian refugees apart from individual assaults by a few.
Amnesty International Turkish branch refugee rights coordinator Volkan Gorendag told The Epoch Times that after the explosion, due to tension provoked by the press and politicians, some Syrian refugees had fled to camps in the Syrian territory close to the border.
“There is no security in those camps. There are severe problems related to health, food, and hygiene.” Gorendag said. “Since these camps are in Syrian territory, aid support and protection are very limited.”
Gorendag also pointed to some problems in Turkey related to refugees. He said that many camps are located close to the border, close to the conflict zone in Syria. He added that, according to international standards, the camps should be established 50 km (31 miles) away from the border. Turkey, however, has not complied with this rule and this has created tension.
He estimated that there are 500,000 refugees, however only 40 percent are registered. This creates a lot of risks in terms of ensuring the safety of refugees and providing certain rights, as well as planning aid programs.
“Especially in a border town like Reyhanli, the population doubled with Syrian refugees and this created issues mainly in hospitals due to lack of staff. We are worried that infrastructure problems will lead to xenophobia. Government has to take necessary measures to avoid tension and disruption of health and other services,” said Gorendag.
The vice president of nongovernmental organization Mazlumder, Recep Karagoz, told The Epoch Times “After the incident, both refugees in camps and the ones living outside camps worried about their safety. They could not go out for a week. They could not go to the hospitals. However things are slowly going back to normal.”