In Turkey, The Syrian Bonanza

They have come by the millions to Istanbul and Izmir and Ankara, settling in the basements and empty buildings, finding work and shelter where they can. A vast tide of Syrians, linguistically and economically adrift, their very numbers creating huge changes in the Turkish economy.

Three million Syrians, an eighth of the country’s population, have streamed into Turkey since civil war consumed Damascus and Aleppo and the rest of the country. The world has mostly remained obsessed by the hundreds of thousands who have continued on to Europe. In this magisterial investigation, Turkish journalist Pinar Ogunc sketches the lives of the vast majority who have remained in Turkey, the changes they have wrought in Turkey’s labor market, the opportunity they offer for the country’s industrialists.

A FAMILY OF SEVEN THAT LIVE ON 250 LIRAS

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Syrian refugee family portrait. Photo CC: Gianis Angelakis.

The light shining from the windows of basement apartments reflects on the snow-covered streets here. As in most of the poor neighborhoods of Istanbul, the basements and the old warehouses are now rented as living spaces to Syrians. Thirty-three year old Muhammed opens the door of a ground floor flat. He has just returned from work.

Two boys run around the heating stove that has just been lit. One is three, the other is five years old. Their names are Taim and Yazen. Muhammed’s wife Zeynep is three years younger than him. Her eyes sparkle. She shows her belly and says in broken Turkish: “I am pregnant.” Then she smiles: “We didn’t need a third child.” A Syrian TV channel is on. They have turned this place into a full-blown house, with bits of furniture and equipment they collected from here and there.

Zeynep and Muhammed’s inner beauty is reflected on their faces. The kindness in their eyes makes one angry at all the circumstances which put them in this life here. But in spite of it all, they do not utter a sentence without saying “thank God” in it.

Their house in Aleppo was bombed two years ago. They are not sure whether it was the Free Syrian Army, or the regime who thought the house was quartering the Free Syrian Army. Fleeing their house without even changing their clothes, they made their way to a friend’s house in a different neighborhood, then crossed the border into Turkey, and then on to Istanbul. Muhammed’s brother and his family had come before them. The brother works in Bursa in the furniture industry. Muhammed, who used to work in an iron joinery factory in Aleppo, started out working in furniture as well, and now labors in a textile factory.

At one point during our chat I want to know whether they have any information about the recent regulation that might allow Syrians to obtain official work permits, or whether they know any Syrians with [above-board] jobs that give them social security benefits. Or whether they have any hopes of obtaining social security benefits one day…

Our translator, who himself works in a textile factory, has a sarcastic expression on his face as he asks, as if he already knows the answer perfectly well.

Two children as well as Zeynep’s mother, father and sister… seven people live on Muhammed’s income: 250 liras ($85) a week. The rent is 600 liras ($200). It is hard to find even Turkish workers with social security around here, let alone finding Syrians with social security. Finding a job is quite hard due to the crisis in the industry. “I was a construction site worker in Aleppo. We were living like kings. Here, they do not give a job to anyone over 40,” says Zeynep’s father, and a discussion in Arabic follows. Social security? To Syrians? Did we hear it right? They’re going to give it to us as well? How shall we apply?

They were workers in Aleppo. “Life was not as expensive there. One salary could feed a whole family. Look where we are now,” says Muhammed. Previous landlords tried to make them pay for electricity they did not use, and they complain about the rents being higher for the Syrians. Muhammed sometimes did not even get his pay from former employers. The elder son does not want to go back to Syria. All of his hair fell out at one point when he was terrified by the noise of the bombs in Aleppo.

Zeynep, in her broken Turkish, asks: “Are they going to go to school?” Muhammed can barely speak Turkish, and Zeynep can speak only enough to help herself get by in daily, practical issues. “Language is necessary,” she says “language, school… these are the most important.” Amongst all of these problems wherever they find work the term “work permit” will just be a phrase in a foreign language. Who is going to hire Muhammed or Zeynep for a [declared]job that offers social security?

One tends to think about refugee camps when the Syrian issue is mentioned. However only 10 percent of the Syrians live in camps. Another group are the “street beggars.” And others are willing to risk their lives in the Aegean Sea in order to cross to Europe.

Leaving aside the camp-dwellers, the beggars, and those who have left for Europe, the majority of the Syrians in Turkey need to be discussed in terms of labor and work. How do Syrians [here in Turkey]survive selling their labor? How are they exploited, not only as workers, but in particular as Syrian workers? This is a very difficult debate, particularly in a discussion restricted to working-class labour politics.

Ercument Akdeniz, who works for Evrensel Newspaper and Hayat TV focused on this perspective early on. His book, titled The Refugee Workers Under the Shadow of the Syrian War, published by Evrensel Kultur in November 2014, is particularly useful nowadays when we are discussing the latest changes in legislation. Akdeniz, with the help of others, tells the stories of dozens of Syrian workers from all around Turkey; from İstanbul to Adana, Hatay, Gaziantep, Kayseri and İzmir. All unregistered, and all exploited terribly.

They tell how they are regarded with contempt, exposed to injustice, and blamed for pushing down wages for everyone, just for being Syrians. And they explain how they try to wrestle with this treatment alongside their psychological traumas. Some of those profiled have moved on to Europe now, while others still resist.

One fought for [Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate] al-Nusra, one was a YPG [democratically oriented Kurdish militia]fighter, and one fought for the [Assad] regime… Akdeniz explains that these people, who once would have been shooting at one another, now all work in the same factories. Though they live far apart, they are, ironically, being exploited in the same places.

For Akdeniz, the government’s newly issued employment regulations will not change anything for Syrians who work in industries where employing unregistered workers is already the norm. According to him, big capital is now moving into the unregistered industry that lived off of cheap labor; and the capitalist vocabulary regards all of these Syrians as both a risk and an opportunity. Syrians themselves meanwhile, never stop suffering.

Even though a soft transition is planned, imposing a ten percent limit on [official employment of Syrians]Ercument Akdeniz thinks that the process will be difficult, considering the predictable reaction of Turkish workers. He believes that in the unregistered industries where “the lowest” work, the Syrians and the Turks cooperate to a degree. In cities like Kilis and Antep, where the number of Syrian workers is on the rise, panic and insecurity is rising too.

“The polls show that the majority opposes the presence of Syrian refugees. In small and mid-scale factories, the situation is not as bad as Syrians being beaten or anything, but no-one knows what is going to happen. ‘We are both Muslims, but they are quite filthy.’ ‘We have a kind heart for them, but they have ruined our neighborhood.’ There is a problematic approach in general. For example, will they employ Syrians in the Renault factory in Bursa? When someone realizes that he did not get the job at Renault because of a Syrian, the consequences will be a lot different.”

“The criteria for employing migrant workers is clearly specified,” he says. “But now the international organizations do nothing about this situation in Turkey. All they want is for the Syrians to stay away from Europe. Turkey is now a “filter country” rather than a “transit country.” The idea of refugee labor excites all bosses around the world right now. The agreement between Turkey and Europe is not solely a financial agreement. Three billion dollars is nothing. A new strategy is being discussed, and Turkey is an important field of experiment. In the post-World War II period, migrant labor was also important for development, but even then it was more conscientious.” Such a tragic comparison.

THE LOST LABOUR OF SYRIANS

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Turkey: E-cards for Syrians to pay for food. Photo CC: Caroline Gluck/European Union.

Officially, the number of Syrians who fled the war and sought refuge in Turkey since 2011 is around 2.5 million people. Credible estimates put the real number at over 3 million.

Syrians are registered under two categories. The first group are the “regulars.” They entered the country with their passports, through the customs gates. They benefit from all the rights provided for the legally defined “foreigner” status, such as residence and a work permit. There are only 80 thousand people in this group. They do not even constitute 5% of the Syrian population in Turkey. The rest only have “temporary protection status”.

Until now, the Syrians who have “temporary protection status” did not have the right to work officially. The new change in legislation brings about a new era. And creates a status that does not have a global equivalent. It does not have an equivalent, because the Syrians who are suggested to have work permits later in the future with this new regulation are neither “foreigners”, nor “refugees” or “migrant workers”. They cannot benefit from the rights ensured by these statuses. They have to work in the cities they reside in, and in their workplaces, the number of Syrians should not exceed 10%. It only does not apply to agriculture. This could be interpreted as reflecting the high possibility that almost all of the seasonal agricultural workers will be Syrians.

Having an official working status with a social security and having a minimum wage limit seem like concrete gains for Syrian workers. But how could this half-status be located in the international legislation? How much impact will it have on the lives of the Syrians who have been working unregistered in several industries for approximately 4,5 years? Which boss will be willing to provide social security for Syrians who have been considered only as a source of cheap labor by the owners of capital?

Are new exploitation mechanisms being built? Could this solve the problem of child labour? How will Turkish workers approach this new regulation? What kind of social and economic results can come out from this new period?

“I LONG FOR HUMANITY, NOT A WORK PERMIT”

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Syrian refugee and her brother. Istanbul. Photo CC: Tuncay.

 

The lives of the Syrians fleeing war and trying to survive in the textile factories can be summarized in three words: a tough life. Even if they were “qualified” laborers in their own countries, they have to obey the system here; a system which forces them to work beneath their abilities and skills, with obvious double standards. The industries within which they work as unregistered workers the most are textile and service industries. The women prefer cleaning jobs.

The textile industry has depended a great deal on victimized migrant labor; Mongolians, Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis… Since 2013 outside of Çağlayan, the factories around İkitelli, Esenyurt, Merter mostly have Syrian workers. The laypeople usually do menial labor; simple jobs such as carrying materials between the machines. Reportedly, even 6 and 7 year olds work here. People heard the boss say in defense: “Would you rather I let him be a homeless glue-sniffer on the street, by not giving him a job here?”

It is the week that the new regulation which is paving the way for the Syrians who have Temporary Protection status to have a work permit has been announced. We are on the streets of Çağlayan, where you see graffitis on the wall calling for “Trade unions & social security & 8-hour workdays.” Factories of all sizes spread around the apartments and the office blocks; their numbers are said to have fallen to 100-200 out of 1,000 recently. The first reason is the fact that no one really cares about their outfits nowadays in the Middle East, which is supposedly the main market for this industry. The second reason is the crisis with Russia. Another reason is the gentrification in the area. Ironically, the new Çağlayan Main Courthouse is gradually changing the face of the neighborhood; new cafes, new work spaces are opening up, the rents are rising.

Esat Yıldız, the owner of an atelier that has shrunk to only 5 workers, says “there is no work, even if we don’t work for profit.” A 67 year old worker who has been here working since he was 13 says: “I had my social security, transportation fee and lunch. I was paying for my children’s education, but what I earned was enough. Now we cannot even pay the bills. My wife had to go to work, in a bank’s kitchen, for the first time in 30 years. Our boss gave us 200 liras ($70) last week, and only kept 100 ($35) for himself. What more can we expect from him?”

Whilst we were talking about the desperate situation of the industry, the boy who was carrying the jackets there says nothing. Because Yusuf, 19 years old and Syrian, knows no more than 20 words in Turkish. He is trying to understand what is asked of him through body language in this Çağlayan factory where he started working eight months ago. Recently he wrongly sewed the pockets of two coats. A mistake of this sort costs a great deal for this factory. “I fired him first,” says Esat Bey, “he came back, wearing his sandals, he would not leave the doorstep. You see my situation, but I could not do it to him, I hired him back.” Esat Bey continues: “If they let these people in the country, then they should also think about feeding them. Social security? That’s out of the question. I’m sure they passed that law because they want the Syrians to work in SME’s.”

They need work; they make a coat for 20 liras [$7] where they should actually be paid 35 [$12] for it. They get an order, the rest is unclear. Amongst all this stands Yusuf; quiet, timid. He will survive, he will send money to his six siblings. He forms a sentence with the first words he learned: a tough life. A work permit is not a dream he has ever had.

Some masters in the factories are not very willing to talk especially if the issue is regarding Syrians. You sometimes hear them say: “Please don’t go to the back room.” Everyone including the state knows the reality but chooses to ignore it…

65 people used to work in İsmail Çulpan’s women’s clothing factory, but now there are only 3-4 machines. “Until two months ago half of the workers were Syrians but the business has stopped. Even though we are 200 thousand in the red, we are OK.”

İsmail Çulpan, a Mardin Kurd, says Syrians eased the industry at first but now he does not want to hire Syrians. “Ok, I understand, they are in a very tough situation. But my people are unemployed, too. Why then should I hire Syrians?”

As Çulpan can speak Arabic, he sometimes goes to the Çağlayan Police Center to help out with translations. One of the main issues for Syrians is their inability to seek their right to legal solutions due to the language barrier. Çulpan’s personal complaint represents a common judgment: “If 100 of them are registered, 200 are not. Gathering and burning machinery, knife attacks, theft… Unfortunately Syrians have this side, too. They came from war, they have got nothing to lose. Their brains froze, they do not think. I do not want to deal with this any more. Now that the authorities have let these people into the country, they should find a solution.”

The lowest of the lowest classes were considered to be the scapegoats for the crisis. Walking down the street you hear Arabic. The restaurant windows and the advertisements in the dim workplaces are all in their language. But no one understands Syrians. And it is not a matter of language.

During the lunch break we are at a pastry shop frequented mostly by Syrians. Nizar, 24, fled from Aleppo to Kilis illegally during the changing of the guard three years ago. He first worked in the textile industry because he knew how to use the machines. It is hard to find a job in his field now, so he is sanding furniture in a factory. He has a smile on his face when he says he is living with 11 people. Nizar wants to open his own factory. His hopes reside here.

“I am 19 and I have not had anything good from life,” says Eşref. With his family, he moved away from Aleppo to an area between Damascus and Tartus, which was under the regime control. He lived there with his family for two years, then his compulsory military service age came, and he escaped to Turkey one year and two months ago. “I am not dying for this place. As soon as the war stops I will go back.” He is angry because he is very tired in this very early age. He heard from us for the first time that the Syrians who own a Temporary Protection Document might have legal work permit.

“Social security is good but I want to be seen as a human being first. They give 500 liras [$175] to Turks and 300 liras [$100] to Syrians for the same job in front of my own eyes. If something goes wrong, we are the first ones to be fired. A house that costs 500 liras is 1000 liras for us. If the state really wanted to do something about Syrians they would have opened schools, taught us the language. We are not the sort of people who people should run away from. I do not want a work permit, I want humanity.”

Their lives were affected when the Sultanahmet bomber [who murdered 13 tourists in a suicide explosion earlier this year]was announced as Syrian; they could tell the looks they received changed. Eşref protests: “We are fleeing from war. Why can’t they understand that the people who came here just want to live?”

Why can’t they understand?

HOW TRADE UNIONS SEE THE ISSUE: ‘AS COMPETITION RISES, TENSIONS WILL ALSO RISE’

How much space do Syrian workers occupy in trade unions’ agenda? İrfan Kaygısız is a expert in the United Metalworkers’ Union which operates under the DISK(Conferedation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey). I direct this question to him because he had prepared a report titled “The Accessibility of Public Services for Syrian Refugees” on the international organization PSI’s request. The results of the research they have conducted in İzmir and Hatay will be made public on February 6th.

Last week DİSK’s general manager Kani Beko made a statement about the work permit issue for Syrians where he underlined the serious social risks the unjust regulations bear.

İrfan Kaygısız reports that the only action taken by the trade unions that involve the Syrians are the meetings that were held after health workers were being victimized in Hatay. The general critism raised against the trade unions surface here too: they are only willing to deal with the problems faced by their member workers. He says that the circumstances of the Syrians are not considered a social issue of the overall working class.

The work permit provided to the Syrians under the Temporary Protection status is an artificial middle status. What kind of consequences then, could it have in terms of the workers’ rights perspective?

“It will raise the unemployment rate. Lately there have been threats along the lines of ‘you complain about the money you are getting, should we hire Syrians?’ Now that it will be registered, there will be pressure on the workers and the working conditions will worsen because there are cheaper competitors. Moreover, they are forced to be dependent on the employer with the fear of getting fired. This regulation is going to pave the way to hire qualified Syrian workers for cheaper. They are going to hire the an engineer, but they will pay him the minimum wage.”
Kaygısız suggests that the trade unions should claim equal rights for Syrian workers, including the right to unionize. “Beyond having humanistic sensitivity or democratic wishes, the trade unions should defend this for their members’ rights and they should work for cheap workforce competition. Life may force a racist trade unionist to defend Syrians’ rights. But this issue is still not in their agenda.”

Kaygısız reminds us of the tension between the staffed workers and the subcontractors in the first years when this policy was being implemented. According to Kaygısız, as Turkish workers have the psycohological upperhand they think that they can suppress the Syrian labourers. “Kurdish or the Turkish labourers in Germany underwent this too. As confrontation and competition rises, tensions between the labourers will also rise. There will be no peace in the workplaces.”

IT IS HIGHLY PROBABLY THAT NATIONALISM WILL TURN INTO RACISM 

Associate professor at the Hacettepe University Political Science and Public Management Department Murat Erdoğan has been working on migration issues. When we contacted Erdoğan he was in a camp for Syrians with a children’s project jointly organised by Unicef and the Turkish Red Crescent. Our conversation on the phone was peppered by the voices of children in the background. Today, only 10% of the Syrians are staying in camps, and even though the density differs, there is no city in Turkey where Syrians do not live.

Erdoğan’s academic work has focused on the migration issue. He is also the manager of the Hacettepe University Migration and Policy Research Center. One of the main reasons why we wanted to contact him is because he is in a group of researchers who prepared the report titled “Perspectives, Expectations and Suggestions of The Turkish Business Sector on Syrians in Turkey” for TİSK (Turkish Confederation of Employer Associations). The report is crucial because it portrays the employer’s perspective, taking academia’s warnings into consideration.

It is underlined in the report that the population of young Syrians in Turkey is huge. The report also highlights the necessity for strict supervision and the creation of employment areas after an analysis of a qualified work force. With regards to Syrians, the Turkish business sector has an ambivalent perspective that is concerned about “security”. The unregistered economy they create is usually complained about, and they expect the state to have an active role in every step.

Murat Erdoğan thinks the business sector has a realistic approach. Realistic approaches go hand in hand with capitalistic perspectives, of course. The words “risk” and “opportunity” are usually encountered in the same sentences. “The Syrians are desirable now, because they work for around 500 liras. But I do not think they will possess any desirability for the employers when they [are officially declared]and have to be paid at least minimum wage. This new regulation will influence the upper class, qualified Syrians. This is also important. There are enough doctors, engineers in Turkey, they may go to Europe if they want to, this is not the issue. The issue is the people who will stay here; the lower classes and the peasants with little or no education coming from the rural areas. In order to integrate these people we need the educated, intellectual Syrians. They are going to serve as bridges,” says Erdoğan.

He stresses that it is a requisite for the government to make up their minds about whether the Syrians are going to stay or go. He gives credit to the government for their crisis management, yet he believes that this indecisiveness that impacts all the policies is the source of all the problems. This is also the reason why integration-oriented actions are given priority.

Murat Erdoğan’s book “Syrians in Turkey: Social Acceptance and Harmony” was published last year by Istanbul Bilgi University Press. The opinion polls in the book show that the majority of people -as many as 67%- think that Syrians will not be able to fit into society. “There is no good or bad migration. There is “well managed” migration. If this process is not managed well, there is a high risk that nationalism in Turkey will turn into racism. I worked with the Turkish laborers in diaspora for a very long time. Dual citizenship was discussed there. One way or another we will consider citizenship for these people. Otherwise we cannot live together. If the migrants are ignored or if their rights are violated, as traumatized people their behaviors towards the societies they live in will change. This is especially the case if they come as a part of big groups like this,” Erdoğan says.

He criticizes the government for not realizing the importance of the situation. He thinks they consider every suggestion that comes from civil society as a threat. This report was regarded as “perception management.”

Murat Erdoğan also criticizes the international circles’ ignorance about this atypical laboring status: “There is no equivalent. If this is a model we are creating it ourselves. Honestly, I do not think the international community cares where this could be located in the international legislation. They cannot direct any criticism to Turkey.

Amnesty International’s report on unlawful detention and deportation of refugees from Turkey was announced. The report mentions deported people; despite the principle of non-expulsion. This failed to attract any attention. The Western world knows very well that this is an indecent proposal, and they are even glad that the work permit is given to them in Turkey, one way or another.

“I have a liberal viewpoint, I care about EU relations, I have some work about EU too. Yet, when you look at it, you can see that the EU’s priorities about Turkey have changed. They are not concerned about human rights or democracy in Turkey anymore, all they want from Turkey is for them not to send any people to the EU. The recent incidents in Kurdish populated regions in Turkey, the detaining and investigation of academics who signed a petition denouncing military operations against Kurds… before, a great deal of trouble would arise from all these things. Now you can see how faint their reaction is.”

“IN TWO YEARS I CANNOT EVEN PROVE THAT I AM A HUMAN BEING”

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Syrian children. Turkey. Photo CC: Michael Davis-Burchat.

Fifty percent of the Syrians who were forced to flee their country live in Turkey. This incredible number of people clearly exhibits a huge variety in terms of social status, class, and education. A lot of people say that “the rich saved themselves.” Looking at the ones who were left behind… the poverty intensifies for the ones who were already poor in Syria; they are exploited twice here, moving closer towards the starvation line. Here we tried to reflect their stories.

Syrian middle classes, on the other hand, found themselves in a marathon they were not prepared for. The Syrian doctors who had no choice but to work as cleaners in hospitals, the teachers working in the kitchens, the university graduates who became seasonal workers…

The reality of the war does not only involve death, but it also confines the ones who are left behind to lives which alienate them, hurt them, leave them unsatisfied and psychologically drained. People who talk big from far away cannot really apprehend that they could one day find themselves as forced migrants or refugees…

We are meeting with 23 year old Rebal in Taksim, in a cafe he chose. He came to Istanbul a year and three months ago but he knows it very well.

He made an agreement with a smuggler and had a journey to Istanbul that cost him1,600 dollars. When I ask him what he was doing before the war he says: “I still do not call it ‘war’ or ‘civil war’. It is still a revolution for me.” Rebal, who studies economics at university explains that he argued with many people about the “revolution” issue. “The people may ask for something, and there may appear some people who want to intervene or take part in it. The road is long, tough but this is how revolutions take place. The people who want freedom of speech, democracy and a different order are still there on the streets. Whoever thinks that what is happening in Syria started with ISIL or radical Islam does not understand. The West does not show this side on purpose. In southern Syria in the Free Syrian Army there are still people who are like that,” he says.

His father, an Arabic teacher, his mother, a nurse, and his sister are in Damascus. “I guess they are waiting for Godot” he says. “Living in Damascus is like living in a forest. It is not a city, there is no law, nothing.”

He defines himself as a “leftist.” He left the Communist Party he had been a member of because they were supporting the regime. Studying economics was his family’s choice; when he was about to start university he found himself locked up for three months on political charges. What is in his heart is cinema.

He lives with five friends. He has worked in six or seven jobs since he came here: he worked as a porter, a construction site worker, a painter, and a cleaner. He has also been teaching Arabic and, very rarely, doing video design jobs.

He is working in jobs that rely on physical strength for the first time in his life but he is not willing to overemphasize this. “It is tiring but if your aim is to survive you cannot say that you cannot do something. Also what I am faced with are the global problems of the working class. At least it is an experience.”

He had a dream of going to Europe when he was living in Damascus, but now he does not want that. He relates that lots of his friends went to Europe. He also encountered people who got tired of the exploitation and misbehaviour after a few years in Turkey. They therefore tried to flee to Europe.

What irritates him the most is being unable to claim his rights. Both the political tradition he comes from and also his personality increase the need for this. For example, he complains about being unable to get the police to charge the man who abused his friend on İstiklal Street. Nor was there anyone to go to when he was not paid the amount he was promised for painting a house on the elite Bağdat Street.

The people who think they are paying a compliment to him by telling him that he does not look Syrian when referring to his outfits etc. amuse Rebal. He explains that in neighborhoods he calls “Islamist” he encounters the question “Why didn’t you say there and fight for your country?”

He holds a piece of paper. “They couldn’t even be bothered to use one A4-sized sheet for this, they reduce it down by a ¼,” he says of the Temporary Protection Document given to the Syrians by Turkish state. “It is a dream” he says for the regulation that is supposed to allow them to have a work permit here. “It can’t be real because there is no rule to force the employer. Why would he hire you? There is capitalism. Even if he hires you, they are looking for either unqualified or qualified but cheap labor. Simple as that.”
Rebal says: “These are strange to me. As I cannot renew my Syrian passport, when my passport expires in two years I cannot even prove that I am a human, do you realize? This is why everyone is going to Europe. Life is tough there; they exploit you politically, economically but at least your existence is not uncertain.” He can benefit from health services with the number and the barcode given, yet some hospitals do not accept Syrians unless it is an emergency. He cannot get an eye checkup, for example. He wanted to get a residence, the local deputy said no, thus he cannot get a rental contract in his name. But he knows people who could. He needs a tax number to open up a bank account. He couldn’t manage to do that, but there are some Syrians who could get their tax numbers from different tax offices. Everything is dubious. The existence of a practice depends on the person you are in contact with at that moment.

I ask him whether he feels as if he is invisible, he says, smiling “As if? That is unnecessary. Here Syrians are actually invisible. We were only visible during the election period.” In order to continue university here he needs to take the TOEFL exam. He asked around, someone accepted him to take the exam there. But his experience in Turkey tells him that he may not be able to do that. He will take the exam, then he will have to find a university to offer him a scholarship. Of course, that is if he does not become invisible in the meantime.

Pinar Ogunc Translated from Turkish by International Boulevard