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

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora