Syrian refugees’ testimonies: it’s easier to fit in in a Muslim country, but racism and hostility hold you back

Aug 22, 2023

Racism and discrimination, questions about religion and internal conflicts are the everyday challenges faced by Syrian refugees, says Aybiçe Tosun, a researcher at Turkey’s Eskisehir Osmangazi University and an EU-funded COST Action COREnet researcher. She noted that refugees want to integrate into Turkish society, but this is hampered by the language barrier and the sometimes hostile attitude of people.

Together with her COREnet colleagues, Aybiçe Tosun is conducting a study entitled “Narrative Café: Stories of Migration from Syria to Turkey”. As part of her COREnet-related research, she and other COREnet members interviewed a group of Syrian refugees to find out how religion has influenced their migration and adjustment processes.

So far, one meeting has taken place in Ankara, Turkey, with two more meetings planned in Belgrade and Vienna.

According to the researcher, due to the established gender roles in these refugee families, the men worked and did not want to take part in the research, while the women agreed to share their experiences.

“For them, these meetings and participation in the project are an opportunity for socialising and communication, so we decided to focus only on refugee women in Turkey. We spoke to middle-aged women, all of whom are married and came to Turkey with their families,” said the Turkish researcher.


Racism and discrimination

As Aybiçe Tosun explained, Syrian refugees found it difficult to adapt to their new life in Turkey, facing racism and discrimination, and the lack of a community of their own.

According to the Turkish researcher, the Syrian refugee women were happy to come to live in a Muslim country, as they felt it would be more difficult to integrate in Europe or other Christian countries.

“One woman said that her sister went to Germany where most women don’t wear the hijab, so her daughter doesn’t want to wear the hijab anymore, and she feels strange wearing the hijab in Germany. The women we spoke to in Turkey said that they and their daughters do not have this problem in Turkey, they feel comfortable doing it,” said Ms Tosun.


Internal conflicts arise

Syrian women also highlighted that, although Islam is prevalent in Turkey, as in Syria, there are some differences, which make integration processes a bit more difficult.

“The situation can be compared to Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians – they are the same Christianity, but different branches. It is the same with Syrian and Turkish Muslims”, said Ms Tosun.

For example, she said, religious education based on Turkey’s Islamic culture is compulsory in Turkish schools. Refugee children face challenges here – they hear different information at home than at school, feel confused and lost, and are corrected by their parents, encouraged to prepare for their lessons, but stressed that their family’s beliefs are different.

“There is a conflict in the way religion is understood,” explained Ms Tosun.

The researcher noted that Muslims often look to religion for answers to various questions about relationships or family, but that refugee women living in Turkey avoid going to Turkish imams or other religious authorities.

“There are mosques, imams and religious teachers in Turkey, but all the refugees told us that they do not go to these people and religious experts, but choose to deal with situations on their own or in their community,” said Tosun.


The hardest part is when children start school

Refugee women in Turkey are trying to understand why Turks do not follow some of the tenets of Islam, she said, noting that, for example, it is easier for a woman to get divorced in Turkey than in Syria.

“Women say there is much more freedom in Turkey, it is easy for them to adapt to cultural aspects, but they feel that they are losing their traditional way of life, that it affects their daily life and their relationship with religion.

In Syria, it is easier for them, they have their own community. In Turkey, Syrians also live in a community with other Syrians, but the sense of community is not as strong”, noted Tosun.

The most difficult time for refugee women is when their children start school, the researcher said, as some children may be rude and insulting, and such a hostile environment may make refugee children not want to go to school.


Aybice Tosun’s research is part of the COST Action COREnet project. She has also received a Short-Term Scientific Mission grant, which is funded by COST Action COREnet.

COST Action COREnet is an interdisciplinary network that aims to produce, exchange and build knowledge and collaborations across Europe on the topic of migration and religious diversity. COREnet seeks to better explain, understand and analyse the pertinent issues and challenges, and, moreover, to forward viable solutions and ways forward to support migrants, migration and religious diversity in an inclusive Europe. The network aims to share knowledge and ideas between researchers, academics and stakeholders – governmental, non-governmental and media organisations – working in the field of diversity management at local, national and European levels.

Started in October 2021, COREnet currently has 163 members – academics, researchers and representatives of a wide range of organisations working in the field of religion and migration from 38 European countries, Israel and South Africa.


Article prepared by COST Action COREnet WG5 members

Domantė Platūkytė, LRT.LT journalist, Lithuania

Marian Crowley-Henry, Maynooth University, Ireland



Original source of the article in Lithuanian is here.

Photo by mostafa meraji on Unsplash

Have any questions?