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Amid Complaints Of Housing, Job Shortages, Turkey Orders Refugees Out Of Istanbul


Now to Turkey, which has offered temporary protection to some 3.6 million Syrian refugees. But the government now says too many Syrians have moved to Turkey's largest city, and all Syrians not registered to live in Istanbul have to leave by August 20. Here's NPR's Peter Kenyon.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: For eight years, Turkey's been praised for its generosity in taking in Syrian civilians fleeing the conflict in their homeland. Millions of Syrian refugees have been given temporary protection in Turkey, and their children attend Turkish schools. But the government says there are rules that come with this generosity, and one is that the refugees are supposed to stay in the province where they registered. As the Syrian conflict dragged on, many families left outlying provinces to come to Istanbul looking for work. That influx of Syrians has generated a backlash, the chief complaints being that the Syrians are driving up housing costs and taking jobs from Turkish people.


KENYON: This amateur video, posted online in late June and picked up by multiple news outlets, shows police responding to a mob attacking Syrian-run shops in one Istanbul neighborhood. Such violent demonstrations have been rare, but some Syrian families say the message is clear, their haven from the violence back home may no longer be safe.

UNIDENTIFIED SYRIAN CHILD: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: In a small but spotless apartment, I met a Syrian woman surrounded by her three young daughters. Her name is Sabrine. She asks that her family name not be used. The reason for her caution soon becomes clear. The family has had enough and is preparing to return to Syria. Sabrine knows that's not what the Turkish government is demanding. In fact, her family is registered as refugees here in Istanbul and wouldn't have to go anywhere. Still, they've decided to go. Sabrine says it's partly financial. Her husband lost his job so it would be a struggle to pay the rent. But what's really driving her out, she says, are the insults and taunts from her neighbors. Sabrine understands Turkish and says even the neighbors' children have absorbed the hostility.

SABRINE: (Through interpreter) For example, once a little girl was throwing garbage and rubbish at our house and saying, look, the Syrians live here, this is a dirty place, and things like that. But as you can see, my house is a very clean house. They can't accuse us of being dirty people.

KENYON: Sabrine says they've decided to go back to a part of Syria under President Bashar al-Assad's control, which means her husband will likely be called for military duty. Even that, she says, would be better than staying in Turkey. Dima Moussa is vice president of the Syrian National Coalition, a collection of groups opposed to the regime in Damascus. She says they met recently with officials from Turkey's interior ministry and were told no one under temporary protection will be deported.

DIMA MOUSSA: So they also don't want to send anybody back to a war zone. They realize the situation on the ground. If it weren't so bad, a lot of the Syrians would have not come here to begin with.

KENYON: But those assurances don't bring much comfort to Syrians already nervous about their future or to the Turkish citizens who support them. Zeynap Hurbas (ph), a Turkish volunteer who's been helping Syrian refugees for years, says Turkey clearly has the right to do this, but this isn't the way to go about it.

ZEYNAP HURBAS: And I understand the Turkish government's urge to make sure everybody's documented. But this is not - this is not humane. Amongst all the other things that they're living through, making them even more scared than they usually are is not the answer.


KENYON: In a busy cafe, a 33-year-old from Damascus who only gives his first name, Ibrahim, is considering his options. He says there are no jobs in the part of Turkey where he's registered as a refugee so he moved to Istanbul. Now, he says, he doesn't know what to expect.

IBRAHIM: (Through interpreter) We hear many scenarios, but what is certain is that they're eager to relocate people to other provinces. They don't want to have a huge number of Syrians in Istanbul.

KENYON: Ibrahim says he's applied to a university in Istanbul, hoping that will allow him to stay. But he hasn't heard yet if he's been accepted, in the August 20 deadline is approaching. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.