Rising xenophobia and discrimination against Syrian refugees in Turkey has been highlighted after an attack on an Egyptian stunt double in Istanbul.
Abdelbari Mancy, a stunt double in several Turkish TV series, was violently beaten on a bus after a man mistook him for a Syrian refugee.
The attack has raised concerns about the safety of foreigners, especially Arab nationals, in Turkey — and shows how Syrian refugees are increasingly scapegoats for the country’s economic woes.
“This isn’t the first time an Arab has been attacked for being thought to be a Syrian and it isn’t gender-specific. The recent attack on Mancy, however, shows that the tolerance of some Turks has run out,” Omar Kadkoy, a Syrian-origin researcher on refugee integration at Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, told Arab News.
Mancy, who describes himself as the first and only Egyptian stuntman in Turkey, has lived in Istanbul for two years and is fluent in Turkish. He has acted in well-known Turkish series such as “The Protector,” “Payitaht” and “Fighter.”
The actor, whose nose and arm were broken after he was punched, was with his sister, sister-in-law and three-month-old niece during the attack. Both women were also hit during the attack.
Mancy was treated at a hospital on the European side of Istanbul. He filed a complaint against the attacker at a police station.
Almost 4 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey. However, public opinion has turned against them as their numbers have steadily increased due to the civil war in regions close to the Turkish border.
Syrian refugees, who receive free education and health services, have been blamed for rising unemployment, public unrest and erosion of traditional values, as well as inflated rental prices.
For Kadkoy, the root causes of such attacks are multifaceted.
“Syrians are considered as the Pandora box for economic woes. In addition, political decisions to enforce the law, particularly in Istanbul to relocate undocumented Syrians or send the ones with IDs issued from elsewhere to the provinces of registration, amplify further the negative perception of Syrians,” he said.
The Istanbul Political Research Center recently released a research report, “Insecurity of Youth in Turkey: The Perception of Labor, Subsistence and Life,” which revealed that unemployed young people mostly blame Syrian refugees for the problems they face in accessing jobs.
“Turks are constantly reminded that Syrians will eventually return. This was evident in the initial portrayal of Syrians as guests and as an outcome of the military interventions. Thus there is difficulty in accepting Syrians becoming a permanent part of Turkish society,” Kadkoy said.
There are, however, some hopeful signs, although rare. Mahmoud Othman, a 22-year-old Syrian refugee, recently saved a Turkish couple from the debris of an earthquake that hit Turkey’s eastern Elazig province. He was hailed as a hero for his bravery, and has helped to change the stereotypes that many locals have of foreigners.
For Kadkoy, the existing integration policies in Turkey do not have the capacity to change the current perception of Syrians.
“Additionally, there is no political will to inject actual integration policies. Therefore, the media bears a great responsibility in shedding light on Syrians’ contributions, especially the ones of an economic nature. A starting point would be the Syrian entrepreneurs who have invested 3.9 billion Turkish liras to establish almost 14,000 companies and created job opportunities,” he said.