KARAPURCEK, Turkey, Oct 5 (Reuters) – When 46-year-old Hamed fled bombs and snipers in the Syrian city of Aleppo, he ended up in the Turkish capital Ankara, opened a grocery store and began what he hoped would be a better life.
Two years on, he still does not speak Turkish and his dusty shop in the scruffy suburb of Karapurcek runs at a loss.
With its Arabic signs and women wearing the niqab face veil, Karapurcek feels like it could be in Syria but, like many other Syrian refugees in Turkey, Hamed faces hostility from local residents and dreams of moving on to the European Union.
“I regret coming here. If I can’t survive I’ll go back to Syria and die with dignity. We didn’t come to Turkey to be beggars,” he said though an Arabic translator, standing among boxes of Syrian spices and tea.
“I’d go to Europe tomorrow if I could afford the trip,” said Hamed, who declined to give his full name.
Nearly five years after the conflict in Syria began, Turkey has shouldered the brunt of the humanitarian burden, sheltering at least 2.3 million Syrians, the largest refugee population in the world.
But tensions are simmering between Turk and Syrians as it struggles to integrate a population that does not speak the language and is largely prevented from working.
Turkey’s refugee camps can house only a fraction of the refugees, who prefer to take their chances in Turkish cities, where they look for low-paid employment or resort to begging.
Initial optimism on the part of both refugees and their hosts has given way to resentment and mistrust, helping fuel a tide of migrants fleeing countries that are poor or at war and hoping to reach – legally or illegally – the wealthy EU.
A few doors down from Hamed, a Turkish shopkeeper accuses Syrians of failing to pay taxes and undercutting prices.
“I didn’t think it would get this bad,” said the shopkeeper, asking not to be named. Referring to the Syrians, he said: “They only talk with each other, shop with each other.”
Turkey must make it easier for refugees to integrate, and EU member states need to take more refugees, said Piril Ercoban, director of Turkish refugee organisation Multeci-Der.
And if that doesn’t happen?
“There will be increased xenophobia, attacks on refugees, and we will have to see the deaths of more people, either trying to get to Europe or here inside Turkey,” she said.
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