Syrians highlight racism after boy dies in Turkey

Wael al-Saud, nine, moved to Turkey from Syria with his family in 2015 Image copyright Mustafa al-Saud
Image caption Wael al-Saud, nine, moved to Turkey from Syria with his family in 2015

Syrians in Turkey are highlighting widespread racism against refugees after the death of a nine-year-old boy in Kocaeli province on Friday.

Wael al-Saud made Turkey his new home after escaping the Syrian conflict but he killed himself after classmates attacked him, his father told news website Independent Turkish.

The Ministry of Education in Kocaeli denied there was bullying by either students or teachers, and began an investigation.

More than 3.6 million refugees fled to neighbouring Turkey after war broke out in Syria in 2011, but many say the welcome has worn thin.

On Sunday the US announced it would pull out of north-eastern Syria, to make way for an imminent Turkish military assault against Kurdish-led forces.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to establish what Turkey calls a "safe zone" in Syria where up to three millions refugees could be moved.

"Wael was a sensitive, smart and calm boy, who loved life. He was very loved by people around him," his father, Mustafa al-Saud, told Independent Turkish.

"He used to go to the mosque and recite the prayers with the imam."

But classmates ostracised Wael, telling him: "You are Syrian", Mr al-Saud continued.

"It is always said that Syrians should leave. How long are we going to endure this? I'm calling on those who say this, give us a piece of land on the moon and we'll go," he said.

Image copyright OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Some families have been forced to sign voluntary return documents, sending them back to Syria

Many on social media condemned prejudice and increased hostility against Syrians in Turkey in recent months.

"His name was Wael al-Saud. Wael means saved, someone who is harboured. Obviously we failed to save him," tweeted journalist Ragip Soylu.

Video interviews with Syrian children describing bullying by other children were shared by the Refugees Foundation.

"You are Syrian children, go back to your own country," one child recounted being told at school, while another was asked: "When are you going back? You ruined our country."

Syrian author Lina Shamy called for a change to the law in Turkey to protect people from racism.

In July Syrians living in Istanbul were told to leave the city or be expelled if they were not registered to live there.

Crowds also attacked Syrian shops and businesses, throwing stones and breaking windows in working-class district Kucukcekmece, Istanbul.

Image copyright BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Syrian refugees have set up bakeries and other businesses across Turkey

Polling has shown a decline in support for Syrian refugees - from about 70% to 40%.

One man deported to Idlib, Syria, where there is intense fighting, told BBC News that Turks see Syrians "like insects sucking their blood".

Syrian activist Israa wrote on Twitter: "Anti-refugee sentiment kills, fanning the flames of hatred against Syrians and tolerating hate speech because 'that's how people feel' is not an excuse.

"We are observing many incidents where refugee children are being excluded in schools," ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) MP Mustafa Yeneroglu said.

"Our children like #VailElSuud must not lose hope on life, let's hold their hands," he added, sharing a video by UNHCR on how teachers and educators can build more inclusive school life for refugees.

"Another Syrian has gone… Are you happy now?" Ahmet Hamou, a refugee in Turkey, wrote.

"Don't engage in racism. It is an ordinary word for you but it is poisonous to live with," he added.

Children as young as 10 have attempted suicide in Syria and in refugee camps in Greece, according to charities Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and Save the Children.