Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Leftovers: Hard Times for Syrian Refugee Children in Turkey

by Nomad

An unfortunate incident in an Istanbul fast food restaurant highlights the plight of refugee children in Turkey.

Last week, Turkish newspapers reported on an incident in Istanbul which you might not have heard about. It was pushed as one of those sign of the times stories.
According to one article, a young Syrian boy was assaulted by a manager at a branch of Burger King in an Istanbul neighborhood. Why?
The hungry child was seen eating french fries left over by a previous patron.
Eyewitnesses said the boy, who was apparently homeless, was eating french fries from discarded trays and collecting leftovers when the manager of a Burger King in Şirinevler on Istanbul's European side approached him and started slapping him before throwing him out.
Customers at the fast food restaurant were appalled by manager's reaction. They immediately recorded the details and used social media to publicize them. The photos showed the child with a bloody nose, sitting outside the establishment.  

After subsequent public outrage, the manager was fired and the main license holder for Burger King in Turkey, TAB Foods, issued an apology for the incident. A spokesperson explained that the dismissal of the employee was "sufficient for the situation." Reportedly legal action was to be taken against the manager.
There was, the news story points out, no mention "whether the company offered an apology to the Syrian boy."
LOCAL - Syrian child beaten by Burger King manager in Istanbul for eating customer's leftovers
In fact this is only half the story.
Due the long-running conflict in Syria, Turkey has been inundated with refugees, the majority are women and children. (This is a situation we have reported on in the past.)  
Hurriyet Daily News reported in October last year that out of the 1.7 million Syrian refugee, the number of school-aged children is more than 350,000.

Of that number only about 140,000 of these children are able to receive an education. The article reports that the remainder, some 200,000 are unable to enroll in schools. More than 60% of children in refugee camps are enrolled in school, 73% of those outside the camps – the overwhelming majority of refugees – do not go to school. 
So what exactly are the options for the children who are ineligible to attend classes, and whose families are unable to obtain working permission? A recent UNICEF  report estimates that one in 10 Syrian refugee children is working – in agriculture, restaurants and shops, as mobile vendors or begging on the street.
Said one Turkish human rights activist:
"There is a massive increase in child labour here. It didn't used to be that way. The authorities try to fight against it, but in many cases families have little choice."
The UK Guardian reported in September, that even before the Syrian war, Turkey already had a problem with underage workers. The exact numbers are uncertain but according to official figures, almost 900,000 children are estimated to be working in Turkey, around 300,000 of them between the ages of six and 14.  The influx of refugees made that problem even worse.
As refugees from Syria do not receive work permits in Turkey, underage Syrian workers are not being recorded at all. "It makes them extremely vulnerable to abuse," warned [Hakan Acar, a children's rights expert from Kocaeli University.] "Syrian women and children are probably amongst the most vulnerable groups in Turkey right now."
As for the ones that cannot  find work, the only option is to live on the streets and ask for handouts. One news source, Middle East Eye,  gives us an in-depth look at life for Syrian refugees turned Istanbul beggars.  
One refugee, a woman with children who sits on the street told an interviewer:
“There are so many of us Syrians in Istanbul living on the streets.We are everywhere here. You can see so many Syrians on the ground, begging for money, looking for work, but no one wants to hire a Syrian for a job, it seems impossible to find work here."
In addition to not having legal rights to work, opportunities are limited for adult workers who do not speak Turkish. Even for Turks, the opportunities are limited. The Turkish economy weakened in the last quarter of 2014 and unemployment figures hovered around 10.40 percent in October of 2014.

In the Middle East Eye report,  we are left with this tableau. A Syrian woman holds a small baby while her two of  other children mingle around the Istanbul square. They are  holding out small collection boxes. She tells the reporter:
“I am here holding my hand out so we can eat. It’s all I can do. I am sitting out here every day, we move so the police don’t bother us, But sometimes the police kick us out, they are always telling us bad words because we are doing this, but I am always telling them, we can’t eat, we have no work, how can we live?”
Given those options, it seems perfectly natural for any child to scavenge the leftovers in Burger King. 

(Here's a slideshow of images from the net of Syrian refugee children in Turkey.)

Yesterday the opening of yet another refugee camp was announced by Turkish Minister of Finance.