21 Feb Notes from the discussion panel on the representation of Syrian refugees in Turkish media
Motivated byÂ my personal interest in politics, but also due to one of my projects involving monitoring and translating Turkish press articles, I decided to attend a discussion panel organized byÂ the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research in Istanbul. The discussion was about howÂ Syrian refugees are presented in Turkish media and what effects does this representation have on their everyday lives. The three panel participants included one journalist (SÃ¼meyye Ertekin), a researcher (Enes BayraklÄ±) and a University Professor (Yusuf Ã–zkÄ±r). Below I will try to summarize the main points of the discussion to give you an idea about the situation of refugees in Turkey based on the presentations of the panelists.
Refugee news can be classified in six categories
1. Human perspective:
This category focuses mainly on the refugee drama and suffering. Refugee stories and the dangers they face when crossing the Aegean Sea to passÂ to Greece constitute the most common headlines. Other issues concern their struggle to find a shelter, their nutrition needs and the access to health and education services.
2. Religious perspective:
This is mostly observed in conservative newspapers, like Yeni Åžafak. This perspective enhances the solidarity to refugees. The solidarity feeling is motivated by religion and Syrians are perceived as brothers who share the same faith.
3. Financial perspective:
This category focuses on the expenses made by the state in order to face the refugee crisis and cover the refugee needs. It can also include news regarding the refugees’ employment conditions.
4. Terrorism and border security:
This category focuses on the terrorist attacks which took place in Turkey in the recent months. In this framework refugees are presented in a negative way, as it is implied that these people bring troubles.
5. Ideological and political perspective:
Î™n this category refugee news constitutes a meansÂ that serves the ideological interests of certain media. Such examples include news regarding the phenomenon of Islamophobia or news which criticizes the government referring to the refugee issue. The most common examples pertaining to this category can be found in the newspapers Cumhuriyet or OrtadoÄŸu.
6. Positive impressions:
News in this category refers mostly to the refugee camps and the struggle for life.
TheÂ refugees’ everyday life is affected by the way they are represented in the media
Depending on the way the media handle an issue, the public opinion may be left with a positive or negative impression of refugees. Remember the news about Aylan, the little child who drowned in the Aegean Sea and his body was washed up in a Turkish beach. Until that time Europe was rather inactive with regard to the refugee crisis. After that incident political steps started to be taken andÂ European countries started to accept refugees. A positive atmosphere was created thanks to this news. The news about the attack in Paris though reversed the climate. After this incident a rise in racism was observed and attacks against Muslims in Europe multiplied. The percentage of extreme right parties saw an increase and the phenomenon of Islamophobia spread.
The more the refugees are presented as undesirable persons the more problems arise in their everyday lives and their daily struggle gets more difficult. On the contrary a positive representation of them creates solutions to their problems and helps their integration in local societies. The journalist panelist of the discussion provided plenty of examples which prove this view.
A positive example
11 year old Mohamed is member of a large family. He came with his family to Turkey and is obliged to work for 300 TL per month in order to help his family. Actually Mohamed prefers to go to school and study instead of working. The difficult living conditions of his family do not allow for this though. The 300 liras are necessary for them to survive.
After this news about Mohamed was published, the journalist received many calls from Turkish citizens who wanted to help. Mohamed’s story touched the readers’ heart. Thanks to the help received not only Mohamed but also 81 more kids were able to go to school after the news was published.
A negative example
A Syrian refugee stabbed his landlord in Gaziantep in 2014. The local population adopted a harsh attitude towards refugees after this incident. Due to this harsh response refugees were confronted with racism, they were not able to enter certain neighbourhoods in Gaziantep anymore and landlords didn’t want to rent them their properties.
According to official records only 1% of the refugees get involved in crimes in Gaziantep. Â Whenever even a small problem about them is published in the news though, the incident draws a lot of attention, tends to target all refugees as a whole and creates a strong reaction in the public opinion.
Housing: Refugees are seen as foreigners with an uncertain status. Locals do not know what kind of persons are they or how long are they going to stay. Therefore many landlords do not want to rent them their properties and if they do so they tend to ask the amount of 6-months or one-year rent in advance. Â Many refugees end up living in very bad apartments with many persons, for which they pay high rents.
Education: Although Turkey has made important steps to provide health and education services in camps, there is still a high number of children who do not go to school. This number is currently estimated at 400.000. Refugees intend basically to return to their homes, so they don’t think of education at first place. When their duration of stay gets extended, parents start to get nervous about the education of their children. Indeed there was a serious effort to open schools and educate refugee kids in Turkey. However, since the number of students increases with the ongoing new arrivals and the amount of external support to schooling projects decreases, there is a lost generation here. And there is a danger as well, as this generation is likely to get involved in crimes later, if the kids do not receive proper education and are not successfully integrated.
Working conditions: The main work-related problems concern the low wages and the absence of insurance. Low wages are not enough to cover everyday needs and for this reason children are also obliged to work to help their families. Another aspect of the issue is related toÂ the well educated and high skilled refugee workforce. Due to bureaucratic obstacles skilled workers, like doctors and lawyers, cannot find an employment in their sector, as their diplomas are not accredited in Turkey. Besides that, there is also a pressure from the public opinion which wants to protect native professionals first. The argument “why should we hire Syrian teachers, if we have so many unemployed native teachers?” is a common one. Consequently the skills of these persons are not utilized in a profitable way and they end up working in irrelevant sectors, like the textile industry.
Integration and relations with the local population: A racist approach towards refugees is sometimes observed. People cannot easily empathize with them and refugees are not integrated in local society. Positive news about them though has the power to change this situation.
This is more or less the information we heard from the panelists. Â From another point of view I’d like to present some perspectives in the public opinion. My observations are based on comments I hear in my everyday contacts.
The arrival of refugees seems to have affected some balances in the Turkish market. The most obvious effect is detected in the real estate market. Rent prices saw an important increase the recent years. This creates difficulties for the local Turkish population as well. Here is what one citizen said to me: “It’s not that I am racist, but I have financial difficulties myself as well. Right now I am paying 1000 TL for rent for a house that would be normally worth 600 TL. Â If the state helps refugees, then it should also help me”. It’s true that the financial situation of many Turkish citizens is not great. If people enjoyed a greater financial comfort, they would probably be more tolerant towards the state help to refugees.
In the working sector low wages given to Syrians may cause the average wage to drop. Â This affects Turkish workers as well, who may need to drop their prices to be competitive. Finally tourism seems to have suffered some harm, since terrorism and the Syrian war in the country’s southern border may function as an inhibitory factor for many tourists.