Thousands of Syrian refugees are now employed as migrant farm workers across Turkey, and they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation – especially as the government has effectively sanctioned using them as cheap labour. The exact number is unknown, since most of the refugees cross the border surreptitiously and remain undocumented. Unable to return to Syria and often unable to find other work or living arrangements, the refugee laborers are vulnerable to exploitation.
In Turkey, many landowners see Syrians like Khadija as an opportunity to cut costs. While the average Turkish farm laborer earns 60 lira (around $20) per day, a Syrian refugee performing the same job earns half that amount. Women earn as little as 20 lira (around $8) per day and, since they are cheaper labor, are employed more often. In May, this system of temporary labour in Turkey was further institutionalized with the passing of the Private Employment Offices bill, which allows employers to purchase labor through a bureau – a “middle man” figure who effectively eliminates responsibilities for any regulations for the workers, or work performed. This opens the door to long hours, temporary workplaces and workers being instructed to relocate at a moment’s notice.
Refugees say they are often not paid until the end of the harvest. In the worst cases, they are not paid at all.
“In Turkey, refugees do not have any legal status that they can appeal in such a situation,” says Eda Sevinin, an academic at the Central European University who examines how Turkish laws impact Syrian agricultural workers. “Among Syrians working in the fields, there are different hierarchal labor positions,” Sevinin told Refugees Deeply. “Women, the elderly and children are all more prone to exploitation under this law.”
Many refugees feel trapped in a cycle of temporary labour. Fleeing to Europe was never a feasible option for most of the refugees working in these fields. The smugglers’ fees are out of reach to many laborers. With a monthly salary of $200 – if they are lucky enough to be paid, and paid on time – saving up the average fee of $1,500 per person for the crossing is financially impossible. Furthermore, since the E.U.-Turkey deal to detain migrants upon arrival in Greece and deport them back to Turkey was instituted in April, it is now logistically impossible as well.