News / Middle East

Syrian Boys Become Breadwinners as Parents Struggle in Turkey

Hassan, a 13-year-old boy from the southern Syrian town of Deraa, works at a photography studio in Kilis on the Turkish-Syrian border, March 18, 2014.
Hassan, a 13-year-old boy from the southern Syrian town of Deraa, works at a photography studio in Kilis on the Turkish-Syrian border, March 18, 2014.
Reuters
The busy market district of Kilis in southeast Turkey is full of Syrian refugee children, repairing household goods, serving baklava and selling jewelry to become the main breadwinner of their families because their parents struggle to find jobs.

The civil war in neighboring Syria has killed more than 140,000 people and driven 2.5 million abroad, at least 700,000 of whom have been formally registered in Turkey under its "open door" policy reflecting support for the Syrian uprising.

But the total number of Syrians in Turkey is believed to be much higher and the influx has transformed the southern borderlands, with many Syrian grocery shops selling all their home brands and property prices sky-rocketing.

It has also put a strain on the local education system with Syrian parents complaining that schools cannot take any more students.

More than 220,000 Syrians are living in Turkish camps but the vast majority live outside them, without official permission to work. But they do not have to heed camp curfews and so some manage to land informal jobs on farms or construction sites, commonly accepting lower wages than Turkish counterparts.

Only 14 percent of Syrian children living outside the camps go to school, according to Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD), with the majority taking up work, however minimally paid, to help sustain their families.

Yehya, a 12-year-old Syrian boy from Azaz, a town near Syria's northern frontier with Turkey, works in a photography studio in a dilapidated mall around the corner from a string of gold shops in the market district.

He runs memory cards and photos to and from the printers for a weekly wage of 35 lira ($16) - having just got a pay rise. He said he missed school in Syria, where religion was his favorite subject because "it teaches us how to live right", but he had little choice but to take up any work available.

"My father worked for a couple of days [as a security guard] but now he has no job," he said shyly. "We are five boys and two girls and four of us work, to support our family."

Yehya complained that there is no space for him at Turkish schools and he did not know if qualifications at Turkey's 80 or so Syrian schools, concentrated in Istanbul and the southeast, would count for anything in the future, a concern echoed by middle-class Syrian mothers among the refugees.

He works alongside 13-year-old Hassan, who is from an educated family and has become a whiz at Photoshop in the studio. Hassan's father is a teacher and his mother Najla was a women's activist in the southern Syrian town of Deraa, near the Jordanian border, where the popular uprising against Syrian President Hafez al-Assad took shape in March 2011.

Hassan's family fled after some of Najda's friends and fellow protesters were imprisoned. Najla said she sends Hassan, who is neatly dressed and softly spoken, to work after school to keep him out of trouble.

"The environment here is different," Hassan said with his eyes down. "Sure, I've made some friends but I have made more enemies," alluding to tension and bullying among different groupings of refugees.

Syrian children boost gold trade

At one gleaming window in a covered lane of gold jewelry shops, Yehya's 17-year-old brother Mahamet has learned enough Turkish to serve as translator for Arabic-speaking shoppers.

His boss Seyfettin Koseouglu said thanks to Syrian refugees, his sales have doubledin the last two years.

 
Mahamet, a 17-year-old Syrian boy from Azaz, waits for customers in front of the jewelry shop where he works as a translator in Kilis on the Turkish-Syrian border, March 18, 2014.Mahamet, a 17-year-old Syrian boy from Azaz, waits for customers in front of the jewelry shop where he works as a translator in Kilis on the Turkish-Syrian border, March 18, 2014.
x
Mahamet, a 17-year-old Syrian boy from Azaz, waits for customers in front of the jewelry shop where he works as a translator in Kilis on the Turkish-Syrian border, March 18, 2014.
Mahamet, a 17-year-old Syrian boy from Azaz, waits for customers in front of the jewelry shop where he works as a translator in Kilis on the Turkish-Syrian border, March 18, 2014.
"In the first year they didn't really know what to do. But since then, Syrian families often have six or seven children that go out to work. That could be an income of 50 lira for each of them a week," he said with a grin outside his shop window.

"Turks who make money save it, but Syrians - they spend it on gold!" he added, patting the head of 13-year-old Abdulrahman, another Syrian boy he employs who has quickly mastered Turkish.

Abdulrahman says all his siblings are trying to work but if he were in Syria, he would be having a more normal life going to school, where Arabic was his favorite subject.

It is mandatory to finish secondary school in Turkey, normally at the age of 17. This is a legal gray area for Syrians as they are classified merely as "guests" by the Turkish state, but few people are willing to acknowledge children are working.

While Syrian children in the Kilis market serve their customers with smiles and feel gratitude towards their Turkish bosses, they remember their lives in pre-war Syria with sadness.

"Whatever life is like here, Syria is our country," Yehya said.

($1 = 2.2 Turkish liras)

You May Like

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid