The Ghost ArmyTo date, it is believed that at least half of the approximately three million Syrian migrants in Turkey[[At least 300.000 units have never been registered by UNHCR officials. (http://ec.europa.eu/echo/files/aid/countries/factsheets/turkey_syrian_crisis_en.pdf)]] are under the age of 18. Just 2,800,000 units are officially registered, and official UN figures state that approximately 1,200,000 are under 18 and almost 400,000 under 5[[As of 6th of January 2017, on 2.814.631 migrants surveyed by UNHCR, 1.258.140 were under 18 (655.809 boys and 602.331 girls), 385.604 units were children under 5 years (199.839 boys and 185.766 girls). (https://www.unicef.org/appeals/files/UNICEF_Syria_Crisis_Situation_Report_Year_End_2016.pdf)]]. During the school year 2015-2016 the Ministry of Education had stated that there were about 650,000 migrant children who had not had access to education[[“In May, the education ministry said some 665,000 Syrian children living in Turkey – a majority of school-age Syrians in the country – were not in school”. (http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/europe-migrants-turkey-children/)]]. The data provided by the government found or documented no more than 320,000 Syrians enrolled in schools[[http://www.hayatadestek.org/media/files/Child%20Labour%20in%20Turkey_Situation%20of%20Refugees%20and%20The%20Search%20For%20Solutions%20Conference%20Report.pdf]]. With regard to the new 2016-2017 school year, UNICEF – with careful consideration of the data from the annual report (December 2016)[[http://reliefweb.int/report/turkey/unicef-turkey-crisis-humanitarian-situation-report-december-2016]] published by the Turkish government – speaks of “only” 380,000 units to which even this year it was still impossible to guarantee the right to education. The same organization says that, with 490,000 enrolled during the current school year, the number of children in schools is bigger than the number of those out, for the first time since the crisis. Even assuming that the data rattled off by the ministry is reliable, which remains aberrant although they show an improvement compared to the 2015 trend, three considerations are inevitable. First, anyone can see the incredible slowness of the government in taking action to ensure education for minor migrants in the context of a crisis that lasted from 2011. The first cause of failed schooling can be identified by the inadequate measures taken by Ankara since the beginning of the Syrian conflict; even today after six years, allow less than 10% of Syrian households access to the fields, abandoning the remaining 90% to enormous economic difficulties and restricted access to basic services including schools. The data processed in November 2015 by Human Rights Watch[[NOVEMBER 8, 2015 “When I Picture My Future, I See Nothing – Barriers to Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Turkey” | HRW]] esteemed that approximately 90% of children living in the camps regularly attend school. However, the ones living in camp represent only 13% of Syrian refugees of school age. Considering the low percentage of residents in the camps, in 2014-2015 it was estimated that in total no more than 25% of Syrians had access to education in Turkey[[The few data does not allow statistics to be drawn on the decline in access to education in the south-eastern provinces. In Adana, for example, Prof. Dr. Adnan Gümüş – Çukurova University collected data showing as much as 2,800 Syrians in school age, only 20% of them had access to education. (http://www.hayatadestek.org/media/files/Child%20Labour%20in%20Turkey_Situation%20of%20Refugees%20and%20The%20Search%20For%20Solutions%20Conference%20Report.pdf)]]. Also in 2015, AFAD[[Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (https://www.afad.gov.tr/en/)]] studied the percentage of schooling for children between the ages of 6 and 11 who were living outside the camps. The percentage did not exceed 15%[[OECD Economic Surveys: Turkey 2016 page 18 (http://www.oecd.org/eco/surveys/turkey-2016-OECD-economic-survey-overview.pdf)]] and underlined that this difference “Undermines the United Nations ‘no lost generation’ strategy “. Second, every time that we refer to official data from the United Nation (with certain exceptions) it should be remembered that it is related to registered migrants. It is estimated that at least 300,000 people who currently live on Turkish ground have never been counted. Most of these people are children. Because of this statistic, it is inevitable that the figures for early school dropout are destined to rise dramatically. Finally, the severity of the above information must be contextualized with respect to the attention that the Syrian people gave to education before being torn apart by the war: a 99% enrollment rate for primary education and 82% for lower secondary school[[https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/11/08/when-i-picture-my-future-i-see-nothing/barriers-education-syrian-refugee-children]]. The question immediately consequential to ask at this point is: What happens to an army, partly a ghost army, of generations who have not been allowed access to education? What happens if the same unfortunate protagonists are forced to live in total poverty, abandoned by the international community and by the country that should protect them? Child labor, begging, recruitment by armed forces of terrorist extraction, and sexual exploitation: these are the main causes for the end of childhood for the young migrants in Turkey, and their broken and traumatic entrance in adulthood.
The Cancer of child laborNGOs estimate that currently in Turkey thousands of Syrian children are illegally employed as child labour force[[http://www.islamweb.net/en/article/199564/syrian-child-workers-left-behind-in-life]] [[http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/syrian-child-workers-left-behind-life-20146228011456956.html]] [[https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/jan/29/hidden-child-labour-syrian-refugees-turkey-supplying-europe-fast-fashion]]. A series of causes have become in fact the driving force fueling the cancer of this great machine of child labor[[Seda Akco, a humanist bureau, says that there is “a disparity between laws that require a minimum of improvement, their implementation and the current situation” in Turkey. (http://www.hayatadestek.org/media/files/Child%20Labour%20in%20Turkey_Situation%20of%20Refugees%20and%20The%20Search%20For%20Solutions%20Conference%20Report.pdf)]] – a machine always at work in the country. They keep pushing the Syrian minors in the trap of exploitation: (I) a perverse system of laws – the state that allows the economy to rely largely on illegal employment of children[[In 2012, the latest accurate data provided by Turkstat, nearly 900,000 children and teenagers aged 6 to 17 worked. Of these, there were 292,000 children between the ages of 6 and 14. (http://www.turkstat.gov.tr/PreHaberBultenleri.do?id=13659)]], (II) the shabby interweaving of social and economic policies – absolutely inappropriate to deal with migration flows, (III) the absolute poverty of migrant families. Analyzing the economic history of Turkey in recent decades, data shows that the scourge of child exploitation on the labor market is rooted, and it grazes more than 900,000 units[[http://www.tuik.gov.tr/Start.do]] [[http://hdr.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/TUR#]]. This is considered as a regular occurrence in some regions – especially in the south east of the country – while tolerated in the metropolises of western areas. This happens despite: – Turkey has joined, albeit with much delay compared to other countries, the UN Convention on the Rights of Adolescence (1989), ratified only in 1995[[The Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 November 1989 and entered into force on 2 September 1990 was ratified by Turkey only on 4 April 1995. (http://www.un.org.tr/humanrights/vp/human-rights-instruments/united-nations-human-rights-instruments/un-human-rights-treaties/convention-on-the-rights-of-the-child-crc.php). For a difference on the times of adoption of the Convention by the other signatory countries, look: https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_no=IV-11&chapter=4&clang=_en]]; the Convention n. 138 – Minimum Age – 1976, however, adopted only in 1998[[The Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age of 26 June 1973, which entered into force on 19 June 1976, was ratified by Turkey only on 30 October 1998. (http://www.ilo.org/ipec/Regionsandcountries/europe-and-central-asia/Turkey/WCMS_201653/lang–en/index.htm)]] and the Convention n. 182 – Worst Forms of Child Labor – 1999, only adopted in 2001[[The “Convention No. 182 on the worst forms on child labor” of 17 June 1999, which entered into force on 19 November 2000, was ratified by Turkey only on 2 August 2001.]]. – Turkish domestic laws have prohibited, in accordance with the Conventions, employment below the age of 15 years[[Art. 71 of the “Labor Act n. 4857” of 22nd May 2003. (http://www.ilo.int/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_protect/—protrav/—ilo_aids/documents/legaldocument/wcms_127496.pdf)]] with the additional maximum of 40 hours per week up to 17 years. The Labor Law also set a minimum of 18 years for hazardous work[[Art. 71 e art. 73 of the “Labor Act of Turkey, n. 4857” of the 22nd May 2003, Attachment 3 of the “Regulation on Methods and Principles for Employment of Children and Young Workers (Regulation on the Principles and Procedures Governing the Employment of Child and Young Workers, n. 25425”, of the 6th of April 2004.]]. However, the continued scourge is to be found in the holes created within national law, more or less on purpose, avoiding Ankara’s commitments to the international community – that over the years allows children’s rights to be continually violated. An example is the non-application of the tutelary provisions of labor law to children working in farms that employ no more than 50 people[[http://www.turkstat.gov.tr/PreHaberBultenleri.do?id=13659]]. Yet the data from the Turkish Statistical Institute show that the agricultural sector is precisely the one that traps nearly half of children in the mesh of black work[[Only 970 job inspectors in 2015.(https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/turkey#_ENREF_21)]]. Another fact to consider is the ridiculous number of labor inspectors operating in the entire country, a little less than a thousand[[http://www.hayatadestek.org/media/files/Child%20Labour%20in%20Turkey_Situation%20of%20Refugees%20and%20The%20Search%20For%20Solutions%20Conference%20Report.pdf]]! In such a market, where child labor is always allowed and justified, the entry of a large migratory flow – composed of families who find it difficult to survive and whose children are denied access to education – means the introduction of the absolute favorite workforce by unscrupulous traders and owners of industry. The devastating scenario – consciously drawn by Turkey, and accepted by the EU on the day of signing – is the one in which hundreds of thousands of children, in order to financially help their families, are employed in the most exhausting and humiliating unskilled labor practices, especially in textile factories, in agriculture, in begging. According to the statistics of ‘Support to life’ in the provinces of Hatay and Sanlurfa the percentage of Syrian children forced into illegal work oscillates today between 70 and 80%, of which 90% is accountable for at least eight hours per day. However these statistics are extendable at least to the provinces of Gaziantep and Adana, according to data collected from this study group in October – November 2016[[http://www.hayatadestek.org/media/files/Child%20Labour%20in%20Turkey_Situation%20of%20Refugees%20and%20The%20Search%20For%20Solutions%20Conference%20Report.pdf]]. Children have much more ease of fit between the folds of the black labor market, “they give less trouble, do not raise their head. They are perfect slaves who slavishly follow the orders of their master” says Ahmad, Syrian volunteer teacher in Gaziantep’s school, “they must be sacrificed and abandon the idea of being able to study, in order to allow families to survive”. The government knows it and accepts it. It’s a fact. The clearest proof is the almost two thousand dollars that the law provides as a sanction for the employer, for each illegal worker found working for him. “You ask if they know the rules, prohibitions and fines. They nod and simply answer: is my business” says Valerio Muscella, Italian photographer who has been working for two years, photographing what happens to refugees in Turkey and Eastern Europe. This type of feedback, tragic in their naive ignorance, are the sad proof that everyone, from the plant manager to the police, through the entire local population, are aware of how void the government’s efforts to condemn child labor are, and how this affects the local authorities who disregard the law by omitting checks and penalties. The same NGOs and the United Nations have their hands tied[[At the moment, in Turkey, only UNHCR’s agencies has access to refugee camps.]]. The UN in fact risks to be expelled from the country, and the NGOs fear to see their field of action even more circumscribed its field of action.
Lost Generations. Legitimized slavery that destroys dreamsThe absence of a serious program of education and the forced abandonment of the studies in order to give support to families, is a tragedy that continues to be totally ignored by Turkey and willfully underestimated by the international community. The agreement signed last year with the government in Ankara has done nothing but delegate to a country that is blind to such problems, opportunistic solutions whose sole purpose continues to be the moderation of the public distressed by the arrival of millions of asylum seekers. Yet the periodic reports of NGOs and the United Nations on children scream to the world the very high price that children continue to pay since the beginning of the clashes and the diaspora towards Europe. Although specific channels have been created regarding the educational placement of the Syrians, the problem is that while 90% of them will be left having to worry about their own survival, minors will always be forced to pay the highest price. “I for the first period did not work, I went to school. Then slowly I learned the language, so I started to work with other Syrians” says Omar who secretly yearned to become a professional of the discipline Parkour and to return to his country after the war. Likewise Nur Mohammad, his most silent friend, whose aspirations and desires have been taken away by the conflict. “We have no time to study, we have to work. We work and then go home. When I arrived I learned the language, and I began to ask if anyone needed help in shops, if yes I worked for them. The first job that I have done? I carried things that were used from one store to another store, so they get to know me. Two years ago. I was 15 years old. Then I started working with my father in a textile factory, and I was with him “. For Hassan from Damascus, twelve years old, learning the indigenous language marked the transition from school to work. He learned Turkish on the streets and this allowed him to be hired without contract in the workshop of Fatih, where he worked as an apprentice 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for 300 lire a month. Now he only attends one hour a day the madrasa, a kind of boarding school where you learn the teachings of the Koran. “In Turkey, there is work for everyone. For the lazy there is no place. But Hassan is a good worker” says Fatih proud indicating the copper artifacts carved together. The small Hassan smiles, serving us warm çai. His incredibly black eyes, the future mortgaged to the West for which he produces souvenirs. “In Europe, you do not like children to work”. It is not a question uttered by Fatih, mostly just an unconvinced assertion without any logical basis. It is also a widespread custom that children and adolescents work “as interpreters for the tourists and journalists for 50, even 30 pounds a week”, says Ahmad miserably who, as a teacher, since his arrival in Turkey, strives to ensure education for the small Syrians. Younger children, however, who have not found work in the factory and do not know the language collect “plastics from garbage, cans to sell to recycling”, as told by Fadwa, two children in the textile factories, one four years old who looks for bottles on the streets and the last, the girl,at home to learn domestic work to go and serve Turkish families as soon as possible.
The vilest world that we allowed: children in factoriesGaziantep is a concentration of industrial and agricultural areas among the most important centers of the whole country, divided into three main industrial centers covering 12 million square meters in which small and medium-sized enterprises are active in textiles, machinery, chemicals, plastics and in the food industry[[The latest government statistics for 2013 (http://www.gso.org.tr/) speak of a turnover of Gaziantep export of carpets worth $ 1,529.4 million, of chemicals for 680,5 Millions of dollars.]]. It is a free market from all that colossal and tedious European legislation on the procedures for the storage of hazardous materials or safety in the event of production or handling chemicals. If there are rules, in this country and even more so in the southeast, not only they are ignored but deliberately denigrated. Our rented car – a old rented 147 – takes all the holes in the street. Everything has already moved so far away from the idea of an orderly metropolis and the wide streets of the city center, overlooked by the white facades of alternating buildings and buildings under construction. The suburbs along the Tevfik Kurtlar and Ibrahim Fikri Pasa form a cluster of houses with few floors mostly never finished, and few windows protected by bars. A few dozen meters before one of the buildings, which will prove to be the prison for dozens of Syrian children, a few frames of a slide for children are like a noose around the throat. It seems an image stolen from backstage, where a distracted cameraman has expanded too much the shooting, showing the artificial reconstruction of a fairy-tale structure, betraying the naturalness and truthfulness of the same film. Then we enter. Among the four walls of a garage reorganized as a textile manufacturing center, there are thirty people including 15 children all coming from Aleppo and all below the age of 14. 75 Turkish lira a week for those who cut and sew, 300 Turkish liras for adults Syrians behind the sewing machines. From eight in the morning until eight at night. Five, sometimes six days a week. It is little money, very little, but it is necessary to families who survive outside the camps without government help. If children had just arrived, however, this money allows their parents who remained in Syria to pay one smuggler to enable them to reach Turkey. The children then act as a trailblazer. The parents, who have lost everything because of the armed conflict that is ravaging the country, can indeed afford to pay traffickers one transit. “They place so all their hopes in the hands of their children who arrived in Turkey and they have to endeavor in finding a job as quickly as possible”. However, the destruction of the normal transmission circuits causing troubles in receiving the money entails an additional problem, which is the mandatory presence of an intermediary who takes action in transferring the gains of the children to their families. “A businessman” then “deals to send the money they earn in Turkey, in the hands of their families. In agreement with the owner of the factory, in some cases it is the same person. The man contacts one of his trusted men in Aleppo ordered to hand over money to the family that their child has earned in Gaziantep. Holding, of course, a percentage of the already meager salary”, explains Ms., Arabic and Syrian, a fixer since he was forced to flee to Turkey. “Here we sew for different brands. It can be a t-shirt or a suit that is basted in series and in large numbers, and upon which sooner or later a label will be pinned, a week or another. When a company contacts us, if we already have the product worked, we pin their label and send the packages with the goods. The game at this point it’s done”. Nizar, Syrian, explains the production process taking in his hands a pair of children’s shorts for the company Kidsro[[For brand info: http://www.kidsrogroup.com]] [[https://www.facebook.com/kidsro.fashion/]], that specializes in children’s clothing and from which he received the last request. Proud of his work – similar to the one of a jailer – he is the youth leader for the factory owner. The merchandise produced “is then shipped to Istanbul and/or Ankara, to end up on the European and Russian markets, especially in Italy, France and Russia”. Same destination for the goods produced by other factories we visit. “Will you give me the money to rent a house? No, no, I cannot send him to school. He has to work. He has to help me because now I’m tired and I begin to age. I have continued problems with my back”, says Maas continuing to feed and load the sand with his seven year old son. All the streets of the suburbs are a maze of shame and sadness. Skeletons of reinforced concrete buildings used as warehouses, where curious teenagers promptly reported the order from the father or master. One of them, who owns a children’s clothing factory, the IFBA & Alfa – Kids Pro[[For brand info: http://www.ifbatekstil.com]] [[https://www.facebook.com/tekstilllll/]], masterfully opens his praise of Turkish politics on immigrant arrival: “nobody uses Syrian children in its places of production. No one”, the antithesis of the logic, the triumph of the nationalist populism that is leading the country toward authoritarianism. “The Turkish government gives money to the Syrian families, but they want more and more and it is for this reason that they force their children to work in factories”. Violent lies that are actually justifying the hiring without contract of small Syrian workers forced to work in order to support their families. After weeks in southeast Turkey, at the annoying sound of these words come to mind those far tougher chosen by Gino Strada: “Ignore the suffering of a man is always an act of violence, and among the most coward”. Another factory, the same group. The vapors produced by machinery, used by Suhail ironing the clothes that will end up in a few months on our markets, makes the surreal huge room where a child just over a decade is praying with the head facing Mecca. Ibrahim is ten years old and is in Turkey since just three months, his two brothers work – like him – as slaves in the textile industry. “My family loves me. I love them very much. For this I feel that I have to help them with my work “. How many children, too many. Also Ahmed is Syrian, not more than ten or twelve years at first sight: “We have lived, my family and I, in the refugee camp at Karkamis. In there I was attending school. Then I started working. I don’t have many friends, except some of the kids who work with me. I’ve been working for three months, from 8 am to 7 pm with an hour break. On Sunday we rest”. It is reminiscent of his land and his life, all past coming torn by war, with one stroke of the hand to his people. “I remember all of Syria: my house, my friends. My country is a paradise, and the Syrian people are wonderful”. Looking at the dirty shoes, he brings his hands to his pockets and he starts playing with his fingers. Back to look at us, “I dreamed of receiving a good education and of becoming a teacher or a doctor. I’d still take lessons. But I have to work for a living and I cannot really go to school now. Because me and my family, we have to live. We are with seven and things here cost a lot. Thank God I have a job. I have no other choice but to work”. The only older worker offers me a freshly rolled cigarette, I reject thanking, and the white smoke produced in long puffs mix with those of the welders and the dark tea that the factory owners offered us to drink. “Most of them sleep in the factory where they work”, says Ms. while continuing to smoke, putting on and off his glasses in an attempt to clean dust from the unhealthy environment. He says this with such naturalness that makes it appearalmost normal, which is almost surprising considering the faces scarred by acne and the toxins breathed in 24 hours a day, of looks unfocused in crop fabrics kneeling on the floor. It seems almost normal. One last factory, a final circus of horrors. Even children’s products sewn by children. Outside, the sun is coming down. I think that those who are locked up in there lose track of time completely. Live and survive means the same in the repetitive movement of the production chain. I imagine that in that apnea of violations of human rights and of the children rights, the only strategy to avoid going down and stay afloat is to be devising a plan for a getaway. I am wrong. For these children the work in factories is essential to give sustenance to their families or, even sadder, to be reunited with them. No one is going to give up their jobs. It is a perverse circuit, the genesis of a Stockholm syndrome, an umbilical cord that binds them to a bloody mother. Sinking in the memories, it is the only distraction that is allowed to each of them: even whole families, games with friends, school and “when we would climb the walls to anger the teacher.” Bassem has been in Turkey since three years, he came here when he was six. Since two months he does not attend school any longer. Turning to us he bows his face. Natural light behind us, penetrating through a crack in the windowless garage door, bothers his eyes. His dilated pupils seem to have always been accustomed to the cold and artificial light flicker of neon bulbs that almost disappear into the darkness of the garage. He is embarrassed, and whispers. So finally, refusing to be desired, firmly exclaims: “I do not have dreams, I do not like dreams“.
We are goods A media report from south-east Turkey. Which effects after the EU-Turkey agreement? – The crowdfunding on Produzioni dal Basso for the new project of Overthefortress Campaign, managed by Melting Pot Europe in partnership with Borders of Borders. In addition to the donations you can make on the “Produzioni dal Basso” website, we are available for any conference, exhibition and show that can be an opportunity for meetings, mutual growth and support for the “WE ARE GOODS” project. – Pagina Facebook