Social Issues

The nomadic day laborers sustaining Turkey’s agricultural industry

By Dogan Tiliç

Ankara, Sep 17 (EFE).- The unease is palpable among the day laborers getting ready to work at an onion field outside Ankara.

“Stop filming,” says one. “Delete the photos, we don’t want press, it doesn’t help and only brings problems.”

The man worried about the presence of journalists is Ahmed, who is from the province of Sanliurfa, some 700 kilometers away in southeast Turkey.

Ahmed is a university student but, like his father, Ömer, 66, he earns a living by traveling around the country for seven months of the year in search of work to sustain the family.

Turkey’s agriculture sector, a major exporter to European markers, is kept afloat by some two million day mostly Kurdish laborers.

They are not granted labor rights and toil away in poor conditions.

“We start in April,” Ömer, who has been a seasonal worker for as long as he can remember, tells Efe.

“We left the village and we went to Adana (western Turkey) to work in the fields. Then we went to Malatya (eastern Turkey) to harvest apricots and now we will be with the onions in Ankara for a month.”

Day laborers such as Ahmed and Ömer make up an estimated fifth of the five to six-million strong agricultural workforce in Turkey.

The vast majority of the informal laborers are Kurds who leave their native southeastern Turkey from April to November, migrating across the country from the greenhouses of the Mediterranean coast to the fields of central Anatolia and the Black Sea.

Myriad sectors rely on their labor, from cotton, peanuts and hazelnuts to onions, garlic, potatoes, beets, peppers, tomato and watermelons.

This year, the going rate for a seasonal laborer is around 175 Turkish lira ($9.60) per day. Under those conditions, a laborer would have to work an entire month with no days off to reach the minimum wage.

It is common for entire families to travel around in search of work.

Men, women and children toil away for up to 12 hours under the sun and live in camps set up far from the nearest towns and villages.

“We arrive here, surrounded by dirt and mud, we don’t have water, nothing. There’s no electricity,” Hasan, a young day laborer, tells Efe.

Ömer adds: “We don’t have baths or a shower. We travel. Now we are here, in two days we will be somewhere else. If we stayed in one place, we would be part of society.”

Many day laborers return to the same spots each year.

“If you live for five or 10 years in a European country, they give you nationality,” Hasan says.

“We’ve been coming here for 18 years and they don’t even give us electricity. You have to walk 10 kilometers to find a cafe to charge your mobile.”

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