«Les miserables» in Turkey
A small family - father, mother and two little girls. Good luck has never been present in this family. They are born in poverty and there they are supposed to remain. However, a hope for them was to see the changes that have occurred in Turkey over the past decade. Especially in the major tourist areas.
Many Turks have become rich by selling plots or exchange them for apartments. Shabby, old cars have been replaced with new, beautiful models of various kinds. We see more Mercedes, BMW and Audi in the streets of Alanya than in many European cities.
Whatever gave hope to all the poor in this area has rather made their situation worse. Prices continue to rise and there is no difference in pricing for locals, as it once was. For the poorest in society, life just get tougher and tougher.
Thanks to the development of Turkish economy generally, a great message arrived. All wages will be set up from 1050 to 1300 lira per month in 2016. Everyone who works must also have SGK - medical insurance with retirement plan included. Which is fantastic for anyone with a permanent job. However, this affects all living costs - and has a negative impact on all those who are unable to have permanent employment. For "black labor" has no salary increases.
Developments in Syria are widely known, also that Turkey has welcomed around 2.5 million refugees. In reality, we assume that the real figure is twice as much. And many Syrians have spread from the refugee camps in the east - also to the tourist area of Alanya. They have no possibility of legal work, on an equal footing with other foreigners. They need income not to starve. All odd jobs they can get, they take and work hard for far less than what is normally paid. This way many poor Turks lose the opportunity for a living.
The little family was - like many others - affected by these incidents. The story of "Les Miserables" repeats itself, in a modern society. In the midst of our daily life here in Turkey.
Father and mother tried to build a home and a life for themselves and their two daughters, but the problems they encountered overwhelmed them. In their desperation to provide food, a fatal solution was found. A theft. A solution that would get them out of all problems. Easily. No risk. The father would perform this and create a secure future for the family.
However, the plans failed and the father was caught in the act. Since he was married, they also arrested his wife. The evidence was clear, so incarceration was done immediately. The family had no relatives who could take care of the girls at 2 and 4 years. Thus, they were placed in a cell with her mother.
Turkish prison is not like those we are used to in Europe. The places we often call "better than nursing home" or "hotels". Turkish jail intends to punish criminals hard and create real deterrence to potential criminals. For the two small children, this is a traumatic experience, that will mark them for life.
After 45 days the mother and children were released. The Judiciary considers that it is not prudent to let the children sit in jail. Father will be there until 2019 for the crime that was committed. The mother must work for free 2 days a week for the authorities to contribute to a down payment of what they owe society. She must care for the many cemeteries that exist in the area.
However, according to Turkish law, she is entitled to contributions for being a lone parent of 2 children, and she receives 200 liras monthly. This is meant to cover all the expenses the family has.
Everyone who spends much time in Alanya and Turkey, knows that 200 liras is not much to live on. Neither for the rent, electricity and other costs - nor food. When Mom has to work on cemeteries, she has no one to look after the children. They need to be with her and spend much of their childhood among the graves. First prison, then graveyards. No nursery or play is shaping their childhood.
With two kids in tow, it is also very limited how the mother can perform a job. One girl is hyperactive, the other has epilepsy. And the two days she has to work for free, also limits the ability to get a job. Most workplaces employ only people who can work 6 days a week, full time. Nobody wants to have children running around in the workplace. Children who also need their mother, due to illness and traumatic experiences.
The mother managed to acquire a shelter, for 150 lira per month. In what looked like a house (photo).
When the rent was paid, she had only 50 lire left for other expenses and food.
It was in this house we found her and her daughters. They were malnourished and frozen. Hygiene was lackluster, when there was no hot water in the house. All hope was lost. It was only thanks to some helpful neighbours the three of them had survived so far.
Food was bought from funds donated by Norwegians and other foreigners. A kind lady in Norway sent money to buy a hot shower device. We made plans to fix up the place, so it could be more habitable. Since the rent was low, it looked like a sensible solution. We even brought people from the government there - to see if it was possible for more government aid.
However, the landlord decided otherwise. He did not like the ideas - and informed the authorities that he would throw them out. That cannot be done unfounded in Turkey. Especially when it comes to families with small children. The landlord then produced a story about the mother, similar to what happened to Fantine in "Les Miserables". He claimed that she earned money to "take men in" - to support their daughters. That was how Fantine ensured her daughter Cosette in Victor Hugo's book, was in the same way branded for her business at that time in France, the Turkish authorities look3 with the same eyes at women that are suspected of the same here.
By this claim, it was easy to get the family out of the house. In addition, they were cut off from any opportunity to receive additional help from the authorities. The claim is particularly difficult for a woman of the Muslim faith. For her it is inconceivable to provide for your family in such a way. Another stamp was put on her - and all future aid is cut off.
10 December 2015 the family was supposed to be set on the street.
Fortunately, the story from "Les Miserables" repeats also in terms of some positive aspects. There are some people, who “think more with their hearts”. More Norwegians donated money - so we could send the moving van to the derelict house. Instead of ending up on the street that cold December day, the family moved with her few possessions to a temporary apartment in Mahmutlar. This was disposable in a month and gave us a little extra time to work on to help the family another step.
It was like coming to paradise. Warm rooms, beds, hot showers - and a refrigerator that we could stock up on food for a long while. Still they were scared though. What would happen after a month?
There was an extensive and tough search, to find a permanent apartment - at the lowest price as possible. Preferably, in Mahmutlar - to be as close to the support system as possible - is an advantage. As a Christmas present, we met a landlord with empathy. Just before the hourglass was empty - it was possible for the family to move to the apartment. The price, that normally starts at 600 lire a month and upward in this area - was lowered to 375 lire. The obligatory deposit was cancelled, as an additional help for the family.
The apartment was unfurnished - and what they had with them - was almost nothing. Luckily they had brought the hot shower device that they previously received as a gift. Furniture and other equipment were just a few.
An appeal was made on facebook. A plea for help – to both Turks and foreigners who have settled in Alanya. The replies came quickly. During one week, the whole apartment was furnished - with second hand furniture, utensils, and other necessities. Clothing, shoes and toys for the children - also clothes and shoes for the mother filled up their clothes lockers. The last that came in place of necessities, was a wood burner. Electricity is expensive, but firewood you can find for free many places.
Thanks to another sponsor family in Barnas Brobygger’s auspices, we have a resource in the form of a single father. In gratitude for the help he receives for himself and his daughter, he assists to help when it comes to practical crafts for other families. He has done a lot of handy work for this family in particular.
Norwegians and Britons have donated money to cover the first two months’ rent. The two girls receive monthly 50 lira each from two sponsors in Norway. The mother takes the odd jobs she can find. She is more than willing to work, but has a strong constraint since children cannot be alone.
Something has changed in their lives. The hope that was extinguished remains lit. The belief that there is a future for the two little girls - despite the terrible things they have experienced early in life.
As in the book we are referring to - a book that has been filmed more than most books - this little story has several commonalities. The deepest of them is to see what happens to people's lives - when it is influenced by other people. From all of those that drives them into misery, all those that stamps them as waste and unwanted items - to those who have a completely different view of humanity. People who have a deeper insight - whether it is based on experiences or simply because they choose to think with their hearts. In a chaotic world, with much evil and misery - it is a wonderful pleasure to see so many individuals standing up for others.
A big thank you to everyone who helped and still help this little family further out of misery!
Warm regards from