Fearing retribution, Syrian minorities keep low profile in exile

Wed Oct 23, 2013 9:07am EDT
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By Humeyra Pamuk

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - In a small park on the edge of old Istanbul's Eminonu square, women sit begging, Syrian passports in their outstretched hands, "Please help in the name of God" on sheets of paper at their feet.

In this bustling city, where fisherman line the shore of the Golden Horn and tourists mingle with traders in the alleyways of the spice bazaar, the war raging just over Turkey's southern border feels very distant.

But as Syria's conflict takes on an increasingly sectarian dimension, a growing number of those fleeing to Turkey are shunning the refugee camps on its southern border and venturing instead to its major cities, as far from the war as possible.

"We can't be comfortable at the camps. Yes, they give them food regularly, and conditions are maybe better, but we hear that they send all the men to fight at night," said Tariq, 27, cradling his young son in his arms, his wife at their side.

"We don't want to fight. I escaped the fighting, why would I go back again?" he asked, sitting in a cemevi - an assembly house used by Alevis, Turkey's biggest religious minority - in Istanbul's working-class Gazi neighborhood.

Tariq and the roughly 40 Syrian refugees he is sheltering with are mostly Alawites, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam and the same minority sect as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

It is not an identity they readily reveal.

Perceived, often wrongly, as die-hard Assad supporters, they say they fear retribution in Turkey's refugee camps, which are thronged by Sunni Muslim opposition supporters, including rebel fighters and their families.   Continued...

A man stands behind a fence on which clothes are hung at the refugee camp near the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province December 1, 2012. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh