The Turkish authorities have started deportation proceedings against several Syrian migrants over "provocative" viral videos of them eating bananas. The eight Syrians, including one minor, are accused of "inciting hatred" amid growing tension between locals and refugees, and an economic crisis.
According to Demiroren News Agency they were arrested on Friday in the western city of Izmir and sent to the local office of the state migration services. Officials there said that they will be deported to Syria.
The videos are thought to have been part of a TikTok challenge in which Syrians around the world took part. The challenge was reportedly in response to a viral video of a middle-aged Turkish man complaining that he could no longer afford bananas while Syrian refugees were able to buy "kilos" of the fruit.
One of the response videos showed a group of young men laughing while eating bananas in a barber shop over the soundtrack of the street interview playing in the background.
On Wednesday, the Directorate General of Migration Management said: "Efforts are under way to uncover all the provocative posts… and to carry out the necessary judicial and administrative procedures against all individuals who make these posts."
Meanwhile, police in Istanbul said that they had detained 11 Syrians for "inciting hatred" and "insulting the Turkish people". Milena Buyum, a campaigner covering Turkey for Amnesty International insisted that, "This appalling decision must alarm all who care about refugee and migrant rights and the right to freedom of expression."
Yesterday the Stockholm Centre for Freedom pointed out that the Turkish authorities are continuing to detain Syrian refugees and migrants who shared the videos on social media. The centre also explained that the TikTok videos were a "protest against the Turks' racist and discriminatory attitude" towards a Syrian student in the original street interview video, who was told by a group of Turks that they "wouldn't have had to come to Turkey if there was no war in Syria".
Syrian refugees are often regarded as scapegoats by the media, including pro-government and opposition outlets. The centre added that anti-immigrant sentiment in the country is "nearing boiling point, fuelled by Turkey's economic woes. With unemployment high and the prices of food and housing skyrocketing, many Turks have turned their frustration toward the country's roughly five million foreign residents, particularly the 3.7 million who fled the civil war in Syria."
Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, who constitute the vast majority of over four million refugees and asylum seekers currently living in the country. Turkey is the world's largest host of refugees, according to the World Bank.