The ‘underprivileged’ refugees in Turkey
“For those men I meet while I’m looking for a job, I am only a woman in need; for them, poverty brings deprivation. But I want to work and earn. I am not offering my body; I am offering my labor. And I want bread for my children in return, because if I am to live like a human being, I have no other choice.”
This is how a Syrian refugee woman explained her job search, her effort to survive and her desperation in a poor neighborhood in which she took shelter with her children.
The history of labor migration is, to a certain extent, the history of migrant women working unprotected in unskilled jobs for low wages under precarious conditions. Because they are women, refugees, working class and from another ethnic group, their labor has been subjected to more exploitation than any other.
After all, a refugee woman worker is more disadvantaged than a local woman worker, a male refugee worker or a skilled refugee worker.
A recent report prepared by Hacer Foggo and Kemal Vural Tarlan for Kalkınma Atölyesi (Development Workshop) on the Syrian Dom migrants, the most underprivileged, documents their poverty and the discrimination they are subjected to in their migration journeys. Refugee women from the Syrian Gypsy community known as the Dom are paid 30 to 40 percent lower than men. Because women and children’s labor is cheaper, especially in the agricultural sector, there are more women working there than men.
In urban areas, because of the difficulties in finding a job, women and children either become street vendors or try to survive by collecting food and aid on streets.
There is also a prejudiced stance from the society. Refugee women experience abuse in every part of their lives. A certain portion of local women, instead of showing solidarity with them, see them as rivals. A woman who works as an agricultural worker in the southern province of Adana said: “Syrians should go back to their country. We started starving because they came. Women are taking our husbands from us. They wear the hijab but under their veils, they wear evening gowns. They close the curtains and walk around at home in their underwear. They should leave now. They wander around all the time.”
This societal perception of Syrian refugee women is multiplied when it comes to Syrian Dom women because of their ethnicity, identity and gender. News reports titled as “Syrian Gypsy or Syrian beggar” make it appear as if these people are living according to their own choices, something that fuels the social exclusion and the discrimination the Dom face.
The Syrian Dom women who have to collect aid on the streets become more vulnerable to abuse, sexual violence and harassment. There are especially many incidents concerning young girls, as they are subjected to sexual attacks on the streets.
Communities such as the Dom, who remain impartial in wars, believe that if they stay in refugee camps, it would seem as if they are supporting a side. They fear their children will be influenced by political groups, and for these reasons they do not want to stay in refugee camps.
Nevertheless, the report states that some members of the Syrian Dom families, especially women and children, have been taken to refugee camps against their will and were held in camps for months.
After the issue of Circular Number 46, which is known as the “Syrian beggar circular,” these communities, with the fear of being taken to camps or extradition, are forced to move constantly. Syrian Dom families, who are used to living communal lives of five to 15 families, have split into smaller groups to lessen their visibility in the cities due to the effect of this circular. This situation makes those individuals who have never lived by themselves vulnerable to criminal activities, especially women and children, who are affected the most by this situation.
The first thing to do, taking into consideration the concerns of the Dom, is eliminate this circular.
Also, work has to be done to increase opportunities for employment for Syrian Dom women; activities should be conducted to elevate their literacy and improve their health in an attempt to prevent the abuse against them, while a monitoring mechanism should be formed to facilitate their access to basic services and social aid.
Otherwise, it is easy to gather them and send them to camps.