“Tears rolled slowly down his cheek as he told me that if he didn’t work, he couldn't live.”
The quote above did not come from a middle-aged Nebraskan man who recently lost his job to an underpaid worker in the suburbs of Shanghai; It was not uttered by a Croatian college student struggling to see how she would eat for four years; It was not even spoken by an Afghani asylum-seeker in Greece, ruminating on the depression of not being the one providing for his family any longer.
It came from a 13-year old Syrian refugee, one of the uncountable victims of exploitation, in the great nation of Turkey.
As eyes have been so heavily focused on the response of Europe’s borders to this immense crisis (and rightly so), many have ignored the enormous issues brewing within this nation, wrongly assumed to be only a transit-stop on the way to Europe. With estimates ranging from 2.5 to over 3 million refugees enclosed between its two seas and nine shared borders, Turkey easily towers the next country in line, Pakistan, by a minimum of 900 000 human beings, to claim the title as the country with the largest refugee population in the world. Being connected to Syria, Iran, and Iraq has not made the control of those coming in as easy as that of Europe. The majority of these refugees, however, do not even live in the state-controlled camps; Roughly 90% of all Syrian refugees in Turkey live outside of refugee camp settings, leading them to fend for themselves in a challenging place to do so.
Turkey, in signing and ratifying the 1951 Refugee Convention, created a convenient loophole for themselves by only allowing refugee status for those fleeing nations in Europe. Though they stepped up to the plate during the Yugoslavian Wars, due to the Convention not working in their favour they leave the current asylum-seekers to face obstacles in securing work permits, registration of their status, access to education and other social needs. All this has led to dire situations, where refugees of all ages are forced into corners, like mice choosing between a deathly trap and a malevolent cat.
In this ‘state-less’ state, the ability to be exploited, coerced, and generally beaten-down on a societal level, is heightened to levels that the Western world has trouble understanding. Due to their need for resources, and their inability to get them in any legal work setting, children and adults alike have become the victims of worker’s exploitation, being employed in garment industries, with workers’ rights being virtually non-existent in the long-hour, low-wage Turkish sweatshops
A recent investigation led by the BBC’s Darragh MacIntyre released some shocking revelations into the business, and the conditions these refugees, and other workers, have been living under. He even wrote, after multiple conversations with a group of young Syrian refugees working in these sweatshops, “Like all the Syrians I spoke to, they knew they were being exploited, but they knew there was very little they could do about it.”
The issues of being an asylum-seeker are numerous, but among the greatest lie in the fact that the systems you’ve known, the language you’ve grown up with, the skills you’ve gained, have suddenly become irrelevant. Suddenly, you become simply another number.
And all these human rights abuses, too, within a country that is quickly losing its grasp on the possibility of EU-membership, something tacked on to the treaty agreement of last March as a point of conversation. In a recent war of words and actions, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey used the unleashing of the enormous amount of refugees within his country’s walls as a threat to the EU’s recent criticism of his crackdown on the nation. President Erdogan’s measures, adopted since the failed coup attempt, have been noted by the Council of the EU with “grave concern,” widening a crack in an already fragile relationship.
It would be too much to delve into the more extensive issues travailing Turkey, between the oppression of the Kurds, the limitations on free speech, and the comparisons with dictatorships of the past. The terrorist attacks, failed-putsch, and other outbursts of violence have done nothing to stabilize the country, and many think Turkey is beginning to be burnt by the Middle Eastern fire.
It is easy to vilify the nation of Turkey, to turn it into a monstrous state that eats its citizens and non-citizens alike in destroying their freedom, yet Turkey is not some unknown beast in the mountains; Turkey is the people inside it. And we know that those people, as are all people in the world, are loved immensely by the Father, and that His hope for them is to be cared for, loved, and released into His arms. We cannot forget that, ultimately, we must love Turkey, for He most definitely does.
The refugee situation in this nation is unlike any that most working primarily in European refugee settings can picture, yet all of Europe has been affected by Turkey’s gates. We must remember, therefore, and keep in mind the millions still there, in a country difficult to reach, but simultaneously, so close. We must remember the refugee children working in the garment sweatshops, and their parents too. We must remember, at the end of it, that God reigns not only in Europe, but over every nation, and that we are not only connected by borders, but by the citizenship open to us all.
Turkish, Syrian, or Other.
- For changes in policy that allow all refugees in Turkey greater ability to exercise their rights, to find fair and equal work, and be cared for
- For healing between the EU and Turkey, and for the leaders of every nation involved, to come to decisions that benefit the refugees
- For opportunities to serve in Turkey, as we, at YWAM Refugee Circle, have been desiring to send workers into the nation to work with refugees, but have not found the contacts or ministry to connect them with yet
- For peace within this nation, and for Jesus’s love to break through the religious barriers into the hearts of all those in Turkey
Thank you so much for your prayers and your continued support of the YWAM Refugee Circle!
MacIntyre, D. (2016, October 23). The kids who have to sew to survive. BBC News.
Retrieved from http://bbc.com/news/
 Figures at a Glance. (2016, June 20). Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html
 European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection. (2016, September). Turkey : Refugee crisis. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/echo/files/aid/countries/factsheets/turkey_syrian_crisis_en.pdf
 Human Rights Watch. (2016, November 14). Q&A : Why the EU-Turkey Migration Deal is No Blueprint. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/11/14/qa-why-eu-turkey-migration-deal-no-blueprint.
 MacIntyre, D. (2016, October 23). The kids who have to sew to survive. BBC News. Retrieved from http://bbc.com/news/
 Srivastava, M. (2016, November 9). Erdogan threatens to ‘open the gates’ for refugees in EU dispute. Financial Times. Retrieved from https://www.ft.com/content/6d87e404-a693-11e6-8b69-02899e8bd9d1
 Council of the EU. (2016, November 8). Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the EU on the latest developments in Turkey [Press Release]. Retrieved from http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2016/11/08-hr-declaration-turkey/