A voice for voiceless refugees, a voice for Hamza Ajan

A significant increase in hate speech and crimes against refugees has not occurred only in European Union member states. Between 15 July 2020 and 23 August 2020, within the span of less than a month, six Syrian refugees were murdered in Turkey. All of them were innocent victims of hate crimes. 

One of the refugees, Hamza Ajan, was only 17 years old when he was beaten to death by four people as he defended a woman on July 15. 

Hamza had witnessed some men harassing and insulting a woman near the open-air public market where he worked in the northwestern Bursa province’s Gürsü district. He immediately intervened and told off the men, who, insulted, proceeded to beat him. A brain haemorrhage was the official cause of death later that day.

The most heartbreaking aspect of this horrible incident was the ignorance of the mainstream media in Turkey. Most outlets did not report on the death of the teenage refugee. He was not seen as a person who was part of the society. I decided to write a piece about his death, titled I am Hamza Ajan; I am a refugee, on his behalf to raise awareness against xenophobia, racist attitudes, and hate crimes.

There is no universally-accepted definition of refugees, but the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention defines the term as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” This definition is now controversial as it does not mention people who have been forced to leave their house due to climate change. Hence, I always find it easier to explain the concept with African-British poet Warsan Shire’s Home. Shire explains the reason why people have been forced to leave their house in her poem:

“no one leaves home unless

 home is the mouth of a shark

 you only run for the border

 when you see the whole city running as well.” 

As of June 2020, there are 26 million refugees worldwide, around half of whom are younger than 18, according to data provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The world’s refugee population has increased in the last decade, almost doubling from the 2010 figure of 15.4 million due to war, conflict, persecution, and human rights violations.

As such, it is vital to address the refugee crisis and analyse the rising level of global anti-refugee rhetoric.

Refugees are one of the most vulnerable and exploited groups in their host countries, mostly isolated from society and portrayed negatively in the media. With no conclusive evidence to back up the prejudice, refugees can be blamed for economic crises and high crime rates. 

According to a 2016 study by Pew Research Center, carried out in ten European countries, 82 per cent of participants in Hungary assumed that refugees were a burden because they took away jobs and social benefits from the local population. Meanwhile in Poland, 71 per cent of participants believed that refugees increased the likelihood of terrorism in their country. Another study  conducted in Turkey in 2017 showed 71.4 percent of people believe that Syrians are taking jobs away from locals. 

Immigration research and advocacy group New American Economy’s 2017 study looked at refugee resettlement data from the U.S. Department of State’s Worldwide Refugee Processing System for ten cities in the United States that had received the largest number of refugees between 2006 and 2015. The results were striking.

Rather than an increase in crime, nine out of the 10 communities were found to have become “considerably safer, both in terms of their levels of violent and property crime”. That is not to say that countries need refugees to reduce crime rates, or to praise the refugee status, but it gives one a glimpse into reality - rather than the prejudiced negative assumptions that are not based on evidence.

Several studies have shown that politicians - particularly from far-right parties - and mainstream media play a prominent role in shaping public attitudes towards refugees, linking them to the host countries’ economic, security, and cultural concerns. 

Following the ‘refugee crisis’ in European countries, researchers analysed thousands of articles written in 2014 and 2015 on how mass media portrayed refugees. Italy, Spain and Britain were found to have the most instances of so-called cultural threats, such as to the welfare system. The study also exposed the British right-wing media as aggressively anti-refugee.

It is not, therefore, a coincidence that Mercy Baguma, a Ugandan asylum seeker living in extreme poverty, was found dead next to her crying baby in a flat on Aug. 25 in Britain, in the 21st century. 

Far-right populist parties such as Alternative for Germany (AfD), Britain's Brexit Party, and the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) use anti-refugee discourse to increase their popularity, and it has an impact on public attitudes. 

Sofia Development Association (SDA) with support from the Rights, Equality and Citizenship (REC) Programme of the European Union, in a meta-study of nationwide studies and reports in 2017, found that many countries across Europe had increased rates of hate speech and crimes.

It is necessary to raise awareness under such circumstances, and thanks to helpful colleagues, my article on Hamza’s death has been translated into 23 languages, and already published in nine so far. We are currently looking for help to publish the paper in Kurdish, Spanish, French, German, Swedish, Portuguese, Russian, Hindi, Korean, Japanese, Persian, Thai, and Urdu.

The aim is to be a voice for Hamza, and for all those who are isolated from society. Each human being is valuable regardless of circumstance, and refugees are no less valuable than anybody else. I want to highlight that hate and ignorance will eventually kill every good thing in our societies. All people must stand with those who face discrimination. We all live under the same sky, and there is space for everyone to live peacefully. 

I believe that each individual has the power to reduce hate speech and crimes in society. I want to end this article with a quote from American philosopher Noam Chomsky

“If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”

Note: Please feel free to send me an email at cevdetacu1@gmail.com if you can help us publish the article on the death of Hamza Ajan in any of the languages mentioned above.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.