22. Dezember 2017 · Kommentare deaktiviert für Seasonal Agricultural Labor in Turkey: The Case of Torbalı · Kategorien: Türkei · Tags: ,

Harekact 13.12.17

by Dilan Taşdemir, Association of Bridging People

Refugees are working in the cabbage field. Photo: Metehan Ud

İzmir, a city where 120,000 registered refugees live, has a lot of meaning for refugees. For some, it is a stop on their way to Europe when passing over by boats, for others, it is a city they come to in order to find seasonal work on the fields.

Seasonal agricultural labor in Turkey is not an issue that started with Syrian refugees. For years, Kurdish workers, mostly coming from the east and southeast of Turkey, have been working in agricultural areas in the Aegean, Çukurova, at the Black Sea and in Central Anatolia. There have been dozens of academic studies, news and documentaries on this issue, and it is still being studied today. In every respect, seasonal agricultural labor is a great burden to workers and must be considered as injustice.

Seasonal agricultural workers are trying to survive in the face of many problems, including matters of accommodation and nutrition. Children, for example, have to work at a very young age and therefore cannot go to school, and women face many problems due to patriarchy, such as the exploitation of their labor. Before the arrival of Syrian refugee to Turkey, the largest group in the agricultural low-wage sector were the Kurds, earning 40-50 lira a day. The sector is still predominantly Kurdish, but now the Syrians have appeared as the even cheaper labor force. Farm owners prefer to employ the latter, because they are willing to work for 20-30 liras in order to survive. Hence, this creates tension between Kurdish and Syrian workers.

At least once a month, we –  as The Association of Bridging People – visit tent camps located near the farm lands in Torbalı where Syrians work.  The “intermediaries” play an important role in finding jobs for refugees who fled Syria and that live in various parts of Turkey. When farm owners are in need of labor forces, the intermediaries call different families and bring them to the harvest area. Workers are allowed to set tents on the edge of the field because this cuts down expenses, but they are obliged to pay rent for the place on which the tent is set up. As far as we know, the rent is 300 liras at the minimum.

The tent areas are not in good hygienic conditions. There is not even clean drinking water in the area. With waters pulled from artesian wells, they meet the need for dishwashing, bathing, eating and drinking. They cook with simple gas cartridges either inside or outside of the tents. Toilets are one of the biggest problems. There are one or two rambling toilets for all tents, and everyone are using them. The risk of getting sick from the toilets is very high. People in the field cannot go to the hospital in case of illness, because they are not registered in İzmir or anywhere else – some of them do not have official “identities”. According to the temporary protection system in Turkey, a Syrian can only benefit from rights and services in the place he or she is registered in. In other words, if a refugee registered in Kilis has come to İzmir, the registration is useless in practice. Because of this, they often hear this sentence at the hospitals: “Go and get examined at the place you are registered”.

Women and children in the camps are exposed to the biggest problems. The women we meet work in the fields from morning until evening, if they aren’t sick or too old. When they come back from work, they take care of the children, the elderly and the sick, they do the general cleaning, cook food to eat or care of other burdens that remain.

Last year in November, when a three-month-old Syrian baby named Noaf died in the neighborhood of Eğerci Street in Torbalı, we, as the Association of Briging People, went to the region immediately. On the way, we fetched clothes, food, blankets and cleaning supplies that we thought might be needed there. When we went to the home where the baby died, we faced the worst living conditions we have ever seen. There was a ruin without a single solid wall situated inside a fairly large garden, and about 25 people with children were living in these two rooms of the ruined house. There was no toilet, bathroom, kitchen or water. They put a blanket around a corner of the garden and used it as a toilet. They stayed in this place because it was close to the field they worked on. According to the news, Noaf became ill under these bad conditions and had not been treated because he did not have any officially issued identity. When we went to see his mother, she looked almost dead. She had not slept since she lost her baby. She attempted to commit suicide twice before. Some of her female relatives living in the same place told us that they also had attempted to commit suicide. It was most painful to see that she continued to go to the field to work and to earn 35 lira despite her losing her baby.

While talking to the women, we witnessed their deep desperation. They told me that the place they stay in is hell and that it cannot be fixed. Half of the household are children; those older than seven or eight years old work in the field. One of the girls aged between ten and twelve stayed at home to look after the small children. In other words, none of the children of school age has access to education. When we went to visit them, four women who had just given birth were going to the field with their babies. They fed their babies during the break and got back to work. Because it is not easy to find seasonal agricultural work, they have to go to work if they do not want to lose their job. They do not receive a compensation for their labor, although their salaries are usually paid months later. Sometimes they have to comply with taking half of the money for their labor.

The locals started to argue with us when we were leaving the camp. They asked why we help the Syrians. They said that Syrians are actually very rich, because they send their money to Syria and buy fields and houses there. Their arguments were, that their place is very dirty, that running away from war is a treachery and that their ancestors had not escaped in the battle of Canakkale. While they were telling all this, a three-month-old baby living in the next house had already died because of hunger, lack of care and bureaucratic obstacles. They did not even know about this. A couple of months after our visit, the locals in Torbalı attacked the tents of the refugees and burned them. After this incident, which allegedly was the outcome of a fight amongst children, hundreds of refugees had to leave their work and property and run away. A story so similar to their escape from Syria!

This is a very clear example of how to understand seasonal agricultural labor of refugees. Think about what a person needs to live under humane conditions and then imagine you have to live without any of them. I am talking about a home, water, food, clothing, hygiene, education, social life, the right to health, and dozens of other basic needs.

Yet, for some refugees, seasonal agricultural labor is perhaps the only way to purchase some bread. Many refugees are working in this sector because they also worked as agricultural workers in their country. The farm owners are pleased to have access to cheap labor. But to rectify these conditions of misery, everyone – especially Europe – must act as soon as possible. To meet the explicit needs of these people, an urgent solution must be found, such as the establishing mobile registration centers and health care opportunities in villages or providing children with access to education rather than leaving them no choice but work in the fields.

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