Despite rising anti-refugee sentiment in Turkey, some 3.6 million Syrians are trying to integrate into the country, especially in towns like Reyhanlı in southeast Turkey that host considerable migrant populations, sometimes outnumbering the natives, the Economist said on Thursday.
Polls show that more than 80 percent of Turks want Syrians to return to their homeland and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has plans to move some one million of them to what he calls a safe zone being established between the northeastern Syrian towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al Ayn.
“But despite hardening attitudes, the refugees are putting down roots, especially in border towns like Reyhanlı, picking up Turkish habits and spreading their own,” the Economist said. “Most have no intention of going home, whatever the situation in Syria.”
Living in Turkey is not easy for Syrians, as they have no right to own property and are obliged to work illegally. As a result of the government’s measures to curb irregular migration last year, some of them living in large provinces like Istanbul face deportation to either Syria, or the provinces where they were first registered in Turkey.
Now, fresh fighting in Syria might make life in Turkish border towns even more difficult. Turkey could face a new refugee influx from Syria, as some one million have already flocked to areas near the border after the Syrian government intensified its assault on the northwestern province of Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in the country and home to an estimated 3 million people.
Turkey has 12 observation posts in Idlib, built in accordance with a 2018 deal agreed by Ankara and Moscow, that required the establishment of a demilitarised zone in the province. But Russia-backed Syrian President Bashar Assad launched a military offence in Idlib in April and Syrian troops have advanced significantly in past weeks, reaching areas beyond Turkey’s observation posts.
After seven Turkish soldiers and one Turkish civilian were killed in Idlib by shelling by Syrian forces on Monday, Erdoğan said Turkey would take the matter into its own hands if Russia did not ensure withdrawal of Assad’s army.
“The stand-off has already strained Turkey’s relations with Russia, which backs the regime, but which Mr Erdoğan has courted as a strategic partner,” the Economist said. “Yet there is a limit to how far Turkey’s leader can go. Confrontation with the Syrian regime in Idlib is manageable. Confrontation with Russia is dangerous.”