They work 12 hours a day, six days a week, making $160 a month and suffering abuse from leather factory owners.
For thousands of refugee children, Turkey is the “safe country.” But the stories collected in recent months paint a picture of worse exploitation of children there than of adults. To survive outside of refugee camps, men accept low-paying jobs, and women sit on street corners begging passersby. But for children the tragedy is even worse.
Half of the 2.8 million Syrian refugees in Turkey are minors, according to UNICEF. Of these, over 80 percent do not go to school. Many end up in factories producing shoes, handbags and clothes. They are 13 and 14 years old, sometimes less, and they work to support parents: According to research by Hayata Destek, a Turkish NGO, 60 percent of Syrian families in Istanbul survive on between €150 and €500 per month. Stable work is rare, contracts are impossible; Syrian refugees are forbidden from obtaining work visas.
And so the children go to work. Hayata Destek reports that in many families children are the only ones bringing money home. “There’s no work for adults,” said Sezen Yalcin, head of the program for children under Hayata Destek. “Adults are less vulnerable and employers want young people so they can easily exploit them.”