Fahrettin Altun, head of the Presidency’s Directorate of Communications, hit back at the disinformation campaign targeting Syrian refugees and warned against provocation. In a statement on Thursday, Altun said Türkiye has never been hostile toward the millions of refugees it has embraced since civil war broke out in neighboring Syria.

His remarks came after a string of xenophobic riots targeting refugees across Türkiye, allegedly fueled by the sexual assault of a girl by a Syrian man. The directorate oversees a center to combat disinformation that regularly debunks fast-spreading fake news online. Though disinformation targeting refugees, particularly Syrians, is nothing new, they proliferated before and in the aftermath of riots. Fake reports portray Syrians as “parasites” feeding upon taxpayers’ money and a high rate of criminality among them. Elsewhere, anti-Turkish groups active on social media spread false reports claiming rampant violence toward Syrians, including manipulated videos showing the beating of refugees by Turks, even alleged police “assaults” of refugees.

Altun said Türkiye has been hosting millions of refugees of many different backgrounds for many decades now. “Regional conflicts have caused displacement of millions in our region and we have acted responsibly to respond in a humanitarian manner. We continue to insist on a humanitarian approach because we believe in the dignity and freedom of people who have been victims of conflict and even targeted by their own governments. Turkish people have been extremely compassionate and generous with their support for those who have been given no choice but to leave their homelands. Our people have sacrificed a lot and supported their brethren in the region generously. In line with that spirit, our foreign policy has remained committed to humanitarian principles despite many pressures and provocations of all sorts,” he said.

“We didn’t let fringe opposition groups turn this issue to inflammatory anti-immigrant sentiments. We will not allow external actors to exploit some grievances to dictate our policy, either. In recent days, those who want to stain our record and our humanitarian approach to refugees are working hard to depict our country as a hostile place. There have indeed been occasional tensions and unfortunate incidents in our country but they do not amount to a widespread and sustained anti-refugee wave. Those who are arguing otherwise are either clueless about the facts or are participating in an ill-fated disinformation campaign against our country,” Altun added.

He also pointed out the “contrast between the security-oriented, xenophobic and Islamophobic approach adopted by many European countries” when it comes to refugees and the humanitarian approach of Türkiye.

“Türkiye has proudly and consistently stood against the European far-right that has been showing an ugly side of Europe in their fight against immigrants and refugees. Some political groups in Western countries have been practicing a disturbing level of hypocrisy by preaching human rights while tolerating anti-immigrant sentiments and xenophobia. We have been witnessing the unraveling of the social and economic fabric of Europe as a result of the far-right’s destabilizing rise,” he said, referring to the victory of far-right parties in European Parliament elections.

He also referred to a campaign against Türkiye after outrage over a nationalist gesture by Turkish national football team player Merih Demiral during a Euro 2024 game. “It is just another symptom of this growing disease in some Western nations. Those nations that seek true stability and are serious about living up to the humanitarian principles they preach must stand with Türkiye and confront the forces of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia,” he said.

Altun stated that Türkiye’s policy is working for an end to the conflict in Syria and rebuild a Syria “that has its territorial integrity intact with its citizens living in peace and freedom.”

“To accomplish this, we need to build the humanitarian and legal infrastructure for the safe return of refugees. The international community has failed to focus on this goal and refused to meet the generational challenge of human displacement in our region. We have expressed our willingness, time and again, to work with like-minded organizations to address the issue of burden sharing but we have received very little support so far. At the same time, we are fighting against provocations and disinformation campaigns on the issue of refugees and our country’s policy. The public must only trust the accurate information released from our government’s sources and be vigilant against disinformation campaigns. Türkiye will remain adamant about creating the conditions for peace and stability in our region and we will never ignore the humanitarian plight of the people in our region. And we will never apologize for sticking to our principles even if others fail to do so,” Altun said.

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