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11 Syrian refugees face deportation over ‘banana’ videos protesting discrimination

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Eleven Syrian refugees who were detained after sharing videos on social media showing them eating bananas in an effort to condemn racism and discrimination in Turkey are facing deportation, local media reported on Thursday.

The videos were posted following a street interview in which a Turk says Syrians in Turkey “buy kilos of bananas” while he can’t even afford to buy them.

In the interview, recently conducted in İstanbul’s Esenler district, several Turkish citizens are seen lashing out at a young Syrian student who says they “wouldn’t have had to come to Turkey if there was no war in Syria,” to which a woman responds “Then, fight it, just don’t talk anymore and go away,” also physically trying to push her away. A man then says, “Go back to Syria. You’re just tenants, we are the landlords here. [But] you live in better conditions than I do. I can’t eat bananas while you buy kilos of them at farmers markets.”

To protest the Turks’ racist and discriminatory attitude towards the Syrian student during the interview, some Syrian refugees posted videos on social media, mainly on TikTok, showing them eating bananas.

According to local media reports, Turkish police detected 31 Syrian refugees who had posted such videos and detained 11 of them as part of operations carried out in eight districts of İstanbul on Wednesday and Thursday. The detainees, who are accused of “provoking the people to hatred and enmity,” were then sent to the İstanbul office of the Directorate General of Migration Management.

Deportation proceedings were initiated against the 11 refugees, local media also said.

Human rights activists, politicians and social media users criticized the government decision to deport the refugees, although some users sarcastically called the refugees the “Chiquita terrorist organization,” in reference to the global banana company.

Veli Saçılık, a sociologist, leftist human rights activist and vocal critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), tweeted on Wednesday, “It’s only possible in a banana republic that people eating bananas in videos is a reason for detention and deportation.”

Opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) deputy chairman Mustafa Yeneroğlu tweeted on Thursday that the AKP government’s move to deport the Syrian refugees was an “abdication of reason.”

“Judicial action (!) and deportation of people eating bananas in videos. An adolescent reaction to an adolescent joke, [in a Turkey] where there isn’t a rational immigration policy or a cure for poverty,” the lawmaker said.

Attitudes about refugees fleeing the long conflict in Syria have gradually hardened in Turkey, where they used to be welcomed with open arms, sympathy and compassion, as the number of newcomers swelled over the past decade.

Anti-immigrant sentiment is nearing the boiling point, fueled by Turkey’s economic woes. With unemployment high and the prices of food and housing skyrocketing, many Turks have turned their frustration toward the country’s roughly 5 million foreign residents, particularly the 3.7 million who fled the civil war in Syria.

Hate crimes against refugees and migrants, who are blamed for many of Turkey’s social and economic troubles, also have been escalating in the country in recent years.

In August violence erupted in Ankara, the Turkish capital, as an angry mob vandalized Syrian businesses and homes in response to the deadly stabbing of a Turkish teenager.

Turkish media including pro-government and opposition outlets fuel and exploit the flames of hatred against people who fled their countries and sought refuge in Turkey.

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