Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, A number of Syrians face deportation from Turkey after posting videos of themselves eating bananas

Laughing and joking on camera, Syrians have been taking part in the latest craze to sweep social media in Turkey.

In playful TikTok videos, they've been eating bananas and challenging their friends to do so.

The videos seem harmless enough, standard fare for TikTok these days. But while trends come and go, these videos could have lasting consequences for some Syrians.

In recent days, Turkish authorities have accused Syrians of "inciting hatred" for eating bananas in a "provocative" way. Several Syrians have been arrested and face deportation.

In a climate of increasing hostility towards Turkey's large Syrian community, bananas have became a symbol of division.

So, what's the story behind the banana challenge videos?

'I cannot afford them'

The banana challenge was inspired by a viral video of a heated discussion between Syrians and Turks about the dire economic situation in Turkey. Turkey's economy has suffered from high inflation that has eroded living standards.

In the video, conflicting views were shared and a young Syrian woman, in fluent Turkish, defended the work ethic of refugees. In response, frustrated Turks suggested Syrians and Afghans were taking their jobs.

Such opinions are not uncommon in Turkey, which hosts the world's largest refugee population, including 3.6 million Syrians. Anti-migrant sentiment has been rising, with a number of nationalist Turkish politicians campaigning for harsher restrictions.

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But what made this video go viral was what one Turkish man said: "I see Syrians in the bazaar buying kilograms of bananas, I myself cannot afford them."

Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, Videos of Syrians eating bananas have irked some Turkish people

This claim, which caused debate among the Syrian community in Turkey, quickly turned into a viral soundbite on TikTok. Poking fun at the Turkish man, Syrians filmed themselves eating bananas, using banana filters, and sharing banana memes.

While the banana jokes were only for online amusement, they did not amuse everyone.

One photo that replaced the Turkish flag with a banana particularly rankled. The newly founded nationalist Victory Party issued a complaint against Syrian TikTok users for "insulting the Turkish people and their flag".

Other critics on social media said the videos were "mocking the grave economic situation Turks are facing".

At a time of economic woe, the banana videos apparently irked Turkish authorities, too.

It's true the Syrian youths were insulted, provoked and that led them to make those viral banana eating videos.

Alright, but they're in a country where they had applied for residency. Now all 11 are detained, facing deportation to Syria.

Was it worth it?

— Rezvani | seeking not to persuade by anger or pity (@JrRezvani) October 28, 2021
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Last Thursday, local media said Turkish police had arrested 11 Syrians who published banana videos, accusing them of "provocation and inciting hatred".

The Turkish Migration authority said it would "deport them after the necessary paperwork is taken care of".

Efforts were being made to "uncover all the provocative posts" and deal with "all individuals who participated in this campaign", Turkey's Directorate General of Migration said.

Then on Sunday, Turkish authorities arrested Syrian journalist Majed Shamaa, who had done a TV report about the banana challenge in Istanbul.

Turkish authorities arrested an Orient channel journalist, Majed Shamaa, for a funny video in which he asked Syrians in Istanbul what they thought about the Turkish outrage over the banana videos.

— Lindsey Snell (@LindseySnell) October 31, 2021
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter'We're not mocking Turks'

Some Turkish politicians appeared to support the arrests. In one tweet, Ilay Aksoy of the nationalist Good Party, said "those banana eaters are making fun of us and insulting our flag".

But the pro-minority Peoples' Democratic Party said the arrests were "racist".

On social media, members of Turkey's Syrian diaspora attempted to qualify the aim of the banana videos. One wrote: "We are not mocking Turks, we're mocking racism. Economic deterioration affects us all."

Syrian journalist Deema Shullar, who lives in Istanbul, told the BBC that most videos were harmless and "mere jokes".

But she said that some of them may have been deemed "harmful and offensive". In Turkey, there are strict laws that ban insults against the state, its flag and president.

The makers of these banana videos could be prosecuted under these laws, Ms Shullar said.

She said many Syrians were fearful of being deported to their home country, which has been gripped by civil war for a decade.

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"Offences are very broadly defined," Ms Shullar said. She said a Syrian could be deported "over a Facebook post that can be interpreted in a certain way".

She called deportation an "act of intimidation" by the Turkish government.

The banana videos had shifted focus away from the refugee crisis and economic difficulties in Turkey, she said. Instead, everyone was "focused on the TikTok videos".

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