The Last Bus to Europe

Saturday 17 April 202111:27 am
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Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, but they are facing a brutal backlash from Turkish society. People were welcoming of Syrians at the onset of the Syrian war in 2011, but xenophobia and anti-refugee sentiment has become increasingly prominent as the war drags on and more Syrians flee to Turkey.

Migration became one of the most disputed issues in Turkish elections and in daily conversations. Migrants are vilified in the media. One of the reasons is fake news. In 2018, Reuters identified Turkey as one of the top 10 countries most exposed to fake news, and Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for all the problems in the country.

In February 2020, as COVID19 cases spread, the Turkish government misinformed refugees that they could leave Turkey and enter Greece after dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed by air raids in Idlib, Syria.

The Turkish government, which had prevented refugees from going to Europe, was reacting to what they thought was unfair. The European Union had only given half of the EU 6 billion to Turkey that it owed for keeping refugees away from European borders. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had been threatening Europe to open the Turkish borders for a long time, finally did it.

People were welcoming of Syrians at the onset of the Syrian war in 2011, but xenophobia and anti-refugee sentiment has become increasingly prominent as the war drags on and more Syrians flee to Turkey

On Spec podcast reporter and photojournalist Özge Sebzeci boarded a bus from Istanbul to the Turkish border city of Edirne with her camera and mobile phone, recording the stories of one bus full of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Tens of thousands of others spent weeks in a makeshift camp near the border, and a Pakistani young man died from gunshots as he tried to cross. Neither Greece nor Turkey wanted to own up to their actions — instead they accused each other of lies and propaganda.

Then Özge goes further and weaves in the Turkish narrative by getting to know anti-migration politician İlay Aksoy and pro-refugee activist Kadir Bal to understand how they shaped their opinions.

Özge Sebzeci boarded a bus from Istanbul to the Turkish border city of Edirne with her camera and mobile phone, recording the stories of one bus full of Syrian and Iraqi refugees

Kadir, who chose to help refugees, believes that Turkish nationalism prevents people from feeling love for other people and cultures. But İlay Aksoy, who comes from an immigrant background, is afraid of Arabs taking over Turkey. Özge also shares her own feelings about how refugees are changing her country. Then she moderates the debate between Ilay and Kadir online as they try to find common ground in a debate that will continue to impact Turkey's cultural and political future.


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