Report: Dom migrants from Syria - Living at the bottom

19:55 Nov 1 2016 Ankara, Çankaya, Ankara, Central Anatolia Region, Turkey

[From executive summary]

 Damage to Communal Life
The Dom society in the Middle East consists of sub-tribes and these groups of
between 5 and 15 families lead a communal life. Although they may appear to live
in independent tents or houses, the traditions of solidarity, co-existence and sharing
are still prevalent. This communal lifestyle protects an introverted community
from external threats. In times of turmoil, such as during war or conflict, families
and individuals who lack individual survival skills find themselves in a strange
world. The division of groups opens wounds in the fabric of society and individuals
who are forced to become a part of a system that is foreign to them in order to
meet even basic needs such as employment, shelter and food have to face the
associated risks and threats alone. Children who sell goods in the street, women
who collect aid and men who say “they would do any job” easily become involved
in, or are obliged to take part in, criminal activity. Dom communities face all sorts
of threats due to the splintering of groups and division of families.

 Camps: Places of Discrimination
The Dom constantly emphasise that they cannot live in and do not want to live in
temporary accommodation centres. Camps are uninhabitable for these communities
due to ethnic, religious and political divisions, the restrictions they impose on
the independence of communities which have historically been semi-nomadic, the
tough controls at entry and exit, the isolation and the feeling of claustrophobia for
a community that has always lived close to nature. Therefore the Dom tend to live
in tent settlements they have set up themselves, in makeshift tents, or abandoned
and ruined buildings. As they lack the means to rent accommodation, barely surviving
through daily labour, the Dom often change location. As they face greater
pressures in small towns, they prefer to migrate to large cities such as Istanbul,
Ankara and Izmir, and to become inconspicuous in the crowd.

 Registration and Non-Registration
Dom communities have crossed the border into Turkey in two ways. The first is
via border crossings. While initially records were not kept at the crossings, later
records began to be kept. A Foreigner Identification Document, known as the “blue
card”, was issued to the refugees enabling them to freely make use of hospital
services until such time as they were given temporary migrant status. The scope
of this document was later widened for the registration of Syrian migrants. The
document is now known as the Temporary Protection Identification Document. All
dealings with public organisations now require this document. In this way, approximately
three million migrants who crossed the border without records have been
The second way in which Syrians have entered Turkey is via mined territory. Dom
communities, Kurds without identification and those fleeing during attacks have
generally had to enter Turkey via minefields. The reason why they have preferred
this over entry through border crossings is that Dom communities want to have as
little contact as possible with the state. They have many bitter experiences in their
collective memory. Those who have crossed the border over mined land generally
do not register unless they want to seek social assistance and healthcare services,
and do not apply for documentation.
During the field study, it was observed that most Dom groups had Temporary Protection
Identification Documents. The greatest handicap for these groups is the fact
that the documents are only valid for use in the province tin which they were issued.
The Dom lead a migratory lifestyle and move around a lot. Under the circumstances,
should they move to another province, they cannot benefit from services other than
first-tier healthcare. This presents a special risk for women and babies. During vaccination
periods, children need to remain in the province where they were registered.
For women, pregnancies cannot be monitored and check-ups performed.
The Directorate General for Migration Management (DGMM), which is responsible
for the registration of Syrian migrants in Turkey, is unable to reach out to Dom
communities, or cannot undertake their registration for various reasons: because
they are a migratory people, for example, the muhtar (village foremen) may not
give them the necessary documents, or they may regularly move from one province
to another. Moreover, the institutions and persons responsible for registration
tend to be reluctant to register them because of their prejudices. Members of the
community have stated that they tend to avoid the authorities because of unpermitted
crossings over the border, lack of information or misinformation about the
documentation process and the prejudiced approach of officials towards them.
In addition, some of the migrants, having taken to the nomadic lifestyle again in order
to find work, are registered but do not want to claim their Temporary Protection
Identification Document because it is only valid for use in the province in which it is

 Lack of Decent Shelter
Dom families generally prefer to inhabit those neighbourhoods where Dom communities
in Turkey are already settled, in empty houses, stores or cabins, in ruined
and preferably abandoned buildings. If the space is owned, the owners generally
ask for a monthly rent of TRY250-400. Yet these homes do not generally have separate
toilets or kitchens and seldom have more than one room. As they cannot
pay the bills, their power and water is cut off. These needs are sometimes met by
willing neighbours. Water is sometimes procured from nearby parks or mosques.
Very few of the families taking part in the field study said that they had been able to
meet their heating needs last winter through the coal and fuel aid provided by municipalities.
They generally make use of fuel derived from refuse or given to them
by their neighbours. In the spaces which are used as the kitchen in these dwellings,
there are generally one pot and a few spoons and plates; h gas stoves and other
necessary kitchen appliances are almost non-existent. Those that do have these
items were either given them by their neighbours or found discarded ones.
Gypsy families are generally very large. Though the siblings may be married, they
are all part of the same household. Married couples stay with elderly parents and
single siblings.
Many migrants outside the camps live in unhealthy tents. The tents which the Dom
migrants inhabit are in disrepair, are very inadequate in terms of hygiene and
health, and have no toilets or baths. It has been observed that between five and
ten people inhabit one tent. The hygiene conditions and unmet healthcare needs of
those living in tents present a great risk of contagious disease. In the winter, the
migrants’ needs for warm clothes, blankets and heaters go unmet. The faces of the
young children, who constantly live in the open, are covered in scars.

 Poor Health and Hygiene Conditions
During the interviews, mention was often made of problems with disabilities and
respiration, cases of leishmaniasis were observed and the risk of contagious disease
was seen to be high. The communities were also observed not to be able to
take advantage of many healthcare services due to lack of information. In some
cases, healthcare services do not reach these communities at all. In many tent settlements
there were Dom who were unregistered, who did not have a Temporary
Protection Identification Document and who therefore could not access healthcare
services. There was also a high proportion of persons who did not have access
to healthcare because they were living in a province other than the one in which
their Temporary Protection Identification Document was issued, for work or other
reasons. One of the most important problems of the Dom is access to food. While
they cannot find enough food for three meals a day, they also share the food they
can get with others. Emotional disorders have been observed in children who are
malnourished and who live in unhealthy conditions. Delayed development, stunting,
tooth and eye disorders and some digestive tract disorders were also reported
in children, again related to malnutrition.
Sores were observed on the bodies of babies and children due to inadequate attention.
Some newborns were not vaccinated and the level of awareness of mothers
was often low. Persons without Temporary Protection Identification Documents,
or living in provinces other than those in which they are registered, are asked to
pay for the full cost of treatment. Due to their financial circumstances, the Dom are
also unable to take their medicines regularly. It was reported that the elderly and
the disabled do not have access to preventive healthcare services. The illnesses of
many migrants who are mentally disabled or under mental health risks were said
to have advanced due to a total lack of healthcare services.
The Dom have no hygiene materials other than warm water, soap and plastic hand
basins for washing and bathing. As baths become impossible for days and even
weeks during hard winter conditions, the children’s hair is shaved very short. This is
also a precaution against lice. Another reason why the hair of girls is cut very short is
to prevent young girls who have to work from being sexually molested by men.

 Obstacles to the Education of Children
The education of Syrian migrant children in Turkey is seen as the most fundamental
of their problems. This is compounded by issues in urgent need of attention
such as the citizenship of the approximately 250,000 children who have been born
in Turkey and remain “stateless”. Children who cannot receive an education are
sent to work in the street, workshops or fields so that they will learn a profession
or contribute to the survival of their families. This has led to the issue of Syrian
migrant child labour in Turkey.
In Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Adana and Mersin, Syrian child workers are employed in
knitting workshops, textiles, dried fruit processing plants, shoemaker’s workshops,
garages and agricultural work, and in selling paper tissues and water in the streets.
Evidence of this has been taken from reports in the national and international press.
In almost all of the interviews carried out as part of the field study, it was seen that
none of the Dom children had access to education. The main reasons are the fact
that the children are members of a community that regularly changes location, and
the prejudices against their communities. Families think that their children will be
discriminated against at school by both local children and by the children of other
Syrian groups on account of their Dom identity.

 Relations with the Local Community and Exclusion
The Dom population is concentrated in the provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Osmaniye,
Adana, Mersin, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Şanlıurfa, Adıyaman, Mardin, Batman,
Diyarbakir, Izmir, Kayseri and Konya. The presence of Doms has been identified
in other provinces such as Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya, Denizli, Bursa, Kocaeli, Van,
Şırnak, Elazığ, Malatya, Nevşehir, Aksaray, Sivas and Kırıkkale.
These communities live as migrants in tents, in tents or rented accommodation in
poor neighbourhoods and Roma or Dom neighbourhoods in cities, in unregistered
tent sites they have themselves established, and in abandoned and semi-demolished
houses in urban transformation zones in cities. Dikmen Vadisi in Ankara,
Fikirtepe and Tarlabaşı in Istanbul and Kadife Kale in Izmir are just some examples
of these urban transformation zones.
Where the Dom inhabit areas populated by people of the same identity, problems are
at a minimum. Occasional marriages between groups and joint business ventures have been observed, and many households are seen to undertake seasonal work
together. Problems are more frequent with the local population who are not Gypsies
and the security forces. The local population living close to groups living in tents are
especially opposed to the presence of these people. Upon their complaints, the municipal
police, the police or the gendarmerie request that the Doms move their tents
elsewhere. If they do not comply, they destroy their tents and warn them to leave
the area. In border villages and towns community members and security personnel
frequently spoke of Doms being taken to the border and extradited.

 Circular on Beggars: “We Don’t Want Them Either!”
Dom migrants are often described in the Turkish press as “Syrian beggars” or
“Syrian Gypsies”. This has made the already-difficult living conditions of this group
even tougher. Media reports which suggest that the situation of Dom migrants is a
consequence of their own preferences heighten the social exclusion and discrimination
which they face.
The recommendation of the DGMM dated July 25th 2014 and the Circular No. 46 of
the General Directorate of Security, which is known to the public as the “Circular
on Syrian Beggars” state that “Those among Syrian foreigners who have become
involved in crime or have otherwise disturbed public order or pose a risk to public
safety, and those who continue to beg, live on the street etc. despite warnings ...
should be escorted to accommodation centres by security personnel.” Governors
of many provinces have instructed security forces to implement the circular strictly.
All Syrian migrants living in the street and in tents have been given two options:
to settle in camps or to rent accommodation. Otherwise they were told to return to
Syria otherwise. In some provinces and districts, children collecting aid in the street
have been sent to camps without their families being notified. Those who did not
want to go to camps were displaced and some groups have had to return to their
war-torn country. Many examples of the Dom being picked up off the streets and
being sent to camps, and of those facing this injustice being unable to make their
voices heard, have been encountered in press reports and in field study interviews.
During the field study, many cases were cited in which security forces had taken
members of Dom households, especially women and children, to camps against
their will, and these people had had to stay in camps for months.

 Dom Women: Discrimination First by Identity, Then by Sex
After migration, women have come to shoulder the burden of household survival
in place of men who cannot find work. Especially those women who have lost their
spouses in the war have begun to work to ensure the survival of their children
and households. In sectors with heavy working conditions, women have replaced
men as workers. Agricultural labour, seasonal agricultural work, day work and
domestic work have become fields of employment for migrant women. In face-toface
interviews held during the field study it was found that the wages of woman
workers is around 30-40 per cent lower than that of men. Because the wages paid
to women and children are lower than those paid to men, women have been observed
to be more widely employed than men, in agriculture in particular.
The prejudiced approach of the local population towards women is reflected in the
daily lives of migrant women. Migrant women face exploitation both in the street
and while doing daily shopping. They state that some local women see them as rivals,
instead of acting in solidarity. The negative social perception of Syrian women is
compounded for Dom women due to their ethnic origins and identity. Press reports
of “Syrian Gypsies” and “Syrian beggars” are often accompanied by images of women.
Women who have to collect aid in the street are open to all forms of exploitation,
sexual violence and abuse. Cases of girls collecting aid in the street being sexually
assaulted have been identified by women’s organisations and taken to court.

 Employment and Unemployment
Many traditional Dom occupations such as folk dentistry, performing music, peddling,
iron and tin smithing, sieve and basket making, rifle repairing, saddle and
harness making, and hunting wild birds are not viable forms of income today. This
means a narrower field of employment for the Dom. Many communities have shifted
to the more modern extensions of these occupations or to different occupations
altogether. Most Doms interviewed for the study declared their occupations as
waste/refuse collectors, seasonal agricultural labourers, porters, field and garden
maintenance workers and construction workers. In groups whose traditional occupations
are performing music and folk dentistry, unemployment runs very high.
These communities rely on collecting aid for survival. When they are found out to
be Gypsies, they are generally not given jobs and if they have already been employed
they are laid off. Those working as seasonal agricultural labourers are given
jobs out of necessity due to the shortage of work or a late harvest (i.e. a shorter
period for gathering the crop).
The Regulation on Work Permits for Foreigners Under Temporary Protection Status,
which regulates the entry of foreign migrants under temporary protection into
the labour force, was published and became effective in January 2016. During the
field study, no Doms were encountered who were employed under the provisions
of the circular or who were even aware of the circular and related legislation.

 Lack of Access to Public Services
Almost all the Dom migrants interviewed stated that they had had difficulty in accessing
public services such as education, healthcare and social aid. They were
observed to have little knowledge of the basic rights granted to migrants and they
stated that they had not received any support from public institutions in this regard.
They have difficulty in accessing public services because they do not speak Turkish.
The Dom have a very low level of information regarding regulations and practices
for migrants and migration. Lack of information on residence, registration, foreigner
identification documents and work permits for foreigners is common. Information
centres for migrants do not have outreach to these communities.
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