Without work permits, Syrian refugees vow to leave Turkey for Europe

Each morning Mansour al-Isa waits by a dirt mound at the side of a dusty road along with more than a dozen other Syrian refugees, hoping someone will need an extra pair of hands for some manual labour and pay them a day's wage. Often, they wait in vain.

"When a car comes past this corner it beeps its horn and we all run down, trying to beg the guy to hire us," says al-Isa, a father of four, originally from Aleppo in northern Syria and now living in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep, not far from the border. "It is so dehumanizing."

Back in Syria, he was a trained patisserie chef and even worked in Moldova and Russia for a time. After the intense battles over Aleppo in 2012, he and his family fled to Turkey, which now hosts more than 2 million Syrian refugees.

In Turkey, he is not allowed to legally work. So instead of baking cakes and macaroons he now looks for quick cash-in-hand jobs, helping someone move furniture or put up a fence.

The Turkish government in January announced it would let Syrians apply for work permits as part of a deal with the European Union, which is offering more than 3 billion dollars to help Syrians if Turkey stems the flow of migrants.

However the application process is hardly simple and the Turkish Labour Ministry last month said it had only granted work permits to 7,300 Syrians. The ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

"Nobody can get a work permit without already having a job because the bureaucracy requires a document from the employer, who has to hold the job open while you go through the application process," says Abdel Hadi, a Syrian who works with humanitarian aid groups helping refugees.

"One of the main problems is that the laws are confusing, they lack details and don't protect our rights," he adds.

Syrian day labourers say they often can only get work two days a week and manage to scrape together a few hundred dollars a month.

"I want to go to Germany if things do not get better here. I want to go legally, with a visa. I would take a boat and try to smuggle myself into Europe, but I have children. I am afraid they would drown," al-Isa says.

The Syrians here vow not to be deterred by new military operations Turkey and NATO are launching in the Aegean Sea as a means to crack down on illegal migration. Determined people will find a way, a common refrain heard among the refugees.

Ahmed Ashkar was an iron worker in Syria who now tries to ply his trade at Turkish intersections, hoping someone in a pickup truck will come by and offer work. But Ashkar admits he is no longer in a condition to do the heavy lifting he once could.

"I was injured by a shelling," he says, pulling up his sleeves to show his scars and the piece of shrapnel still imbedded in his forearm.

He says he tried living in the refugee camps Turkey built and where about 10 per cent of Syrians reside. But there was no work in the camps and food shops were more expensive than in the city, Ashkar explains.

"We always hear that soon they will let us work legally, but so far it is all talk," Ashkar says. "I know many people who have gone to Europe. And this year, more will go."

However, Syrian refugees headed towards Europe are facing fresh obstacles, on top of Turkey's efforts to crack down on smuggling.

Turkey has largely closed its borders to Syrian refugees, including tens of thousands currently fleeing the fresh fighting in Aleppo.

Meanwhile Syrians that have made over the Turkish border have found their movement heavily restricted since the start of the year. Refugees registered here require a special travel document to move between provinces.

This makes it both harder for them to find work and also to reach western Turkey and the Aegean coast, where for a few hundred dollars smugglers promise to take them to Europe.

"If last year 1 million migrants went to Europe, this year it will be 2 million," says Mohammed, a Syrian who works as a smuggler. For a fee, he will take people out of Syria into Turkey and then connect them with a second man who will put them on a boat to Greece.

"Living here in Turkey is hard. In Europe, we can have a future."

Last update: Mon, 15/02/2016 - 15:34
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