Seasonal Roma workers brave worsening living conditions


When Gandulten Dumrul (50) first listened to the ambitious promises made by then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2009, she hoped to finally have a better life and future for herself and her family after years of discrimination and poverty.
Six years later, all of her euphoria is gone, as the government kept very few of its promises to upgrade living standards and rights for Turkeyand’s isolated Roma community. Dumrul and her family of five used to live in a nylon tent when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) first reached out to them in 2009. They still do so in their Roma neighborhood in Germencik, in the province of Aydin, earning their living as farm workers in the summer.
For decades, the Turkish state ignored its millions of Roma citizens, with the media following suit. The Roma have long complained that the stereotypes TV shows perpetuate are inappropriate, as they show Roma neighborhoods as places where there is always dancing on the streets or fights taking places. The image presented is one of a community without any problems. The reality is that the first thing one recognizes when entering a Roma neighborhood is poverty.
The AK Party government launched a Roma initiative in late 2009, vowing to address issues such as a lack of housing, unemployment, discrimination and low education levels within the Roma community. Back then, the government abolished a 1934 law that allowed the Interior Ministry to expel Roma people from Turkey as it deems necessary, referring to this group as and”gypsiesand” in its text. The government, however, failed to deliver such basic pledges as providing enough housing for the Roma or offering them equal rights. Aydin is one of Turkeyand’s leading agriculture hubs and is home to a good number of Roma citizens. The Roma community can only benefit from the regionand’s lucrative agro-business as temporary workers, since they own no land. In other words, the Roma rely on the salaries paid by their Turkish landlords. Roma people like Dumrul say they do not have a problem with being employed as seasonal agriculture workers with equal rights, but say social segregation, failed government promises and increasing living costs have increased the burden on their shoulders.
The Dumruls are some of the estimated 6 million Roma citizens living in Turkey. The Dumrulsand’ neighbors provide them with power and water. When Sundayand’s Zaman visited them in Aydin last week, the Dumrul family was preparing to travel to the nearby Aegean holiday resort of Datandca, where they planned to work as seasonal agriculture workers for two months. Each family member expects to earn TL 50 per day in Datandca. Mrs. Dumruland’s husband, Mustafa (58), says they can hardly make ends meet with the money they earn during the summer season. The family spends the winters basically sitting at home and they have to borrow from neighbors to cover expenses and pay this money back in the summer when they get to work. and”We need better shelter to protect our tents from bad weather conditions during winter. That means money, but the local banks would not give us loans,and” Dumrul explains. She says one of their neighborsand’ tents was burned down due to a fire from a heater and they had to live in other tents for a week. and”Everything, food, clothing has become even more expensive today. We cannot afford to buy medicine when we get sickandhellip Look at the potato prices, I cannot feed my family eggs and bread every day I sometimes have to borrow from our local grocery,and” Dumrul adds. She says she has to spend TL 150 at the local bazaar but that only feeds the family for three days.
h2 Education, child marriage key problemsh2 Among many other issues, Turkeyand’s Roma community is plagued by everyday concerns and problems as inequality in education. The Roma are by far the countryand’s poorest and least-educated minority group. Most Roma children do not continue their education past primary school. Even if Roma parents desire a secondary school education for their children, attending school presents the constant problem of financing.
Seasonal changes of residence and the time required to travel often results in Roma children in Turkey missing school for extended periods of time. Dumruland’s daughter Fidan (16) says she had to leave school last year because she has to work along with the other members of the family. Her family does not want her to get married at a young age, a positive development for Fidan. She still thinks of going back to school once her parents can afford it. Fidanand’s father Mustafa agrees that the low level of education in the Roma community sets a negative example for the new generation. and”The struggle for life usually trumps education in Roma society,and” he explains. Dumruland’s son Hilmi (23) left elementary school due to financial shortcomings and segregation at school. Hilmi married at the age of 17 and has three children already. He would have loved to be a computer engineer had he been given the chance to study, Hilmi says, adding only one kid from the 20 households in their neighborhood makes it to university. Republican Peopleand’s Party (CHP) izmir candidate andOzcan Purandcu was one of these lucky students who made it to as far as university. If elected, heand’ll enter Parliament as Turkeyand’s first-ever Roma deputy. Purandcu says the unemployment rate among Roma citizens is as high as 90 percent. and”I was born into similar conditions but very little has changed so farandhellip The politicians failed to live up to their promises,and” Purandcu says, adding his election as deputy would be a turning point to change the fate of Turkeyand’s Roma community.
Back in 2012, Purandcu pioneered the establishment of a vocational training center in the city of Mersin, also densely populated by Roma. He says 400 Roma students received support for their schooling at this center and 16 of them successfully entered Anatolian high schools, known for accepting only the best students. He pledges to establish similar centers in other provinces.
Marriage at a young age is another problem for Turkeyand’s Roma community. Purandcu cites recent research which found that 67 percent of young Roma between the ages of 13-17 are already married. Purandcu also mentioned controversial urban transformation projects such as that in Sulukule, once a Roma neighborhood that hugged the inside of the old city walls of Istanbul. In spite of widespread domestic and international opposition, the millennium-old Roma neighborhood was totally demolished throughout 2008 and 2009, extinguishing a colorful and lively area. The Roma residents were furious over the redevelopment project, as contractors supposedly hoodwinked them into selling their houses for tiny sums. and”We promise to end such projects and instead offer transformation in harmony with nature on the very same spot that people lived on,and” Purandcu says.
The Roma issue is an urgent problem that waits to be addressed not only in Turkey but on the European continent. The Roma are Europeand’s largest ethnic minority. Of an estimated 10-12 million Roma citizens in Europe, some 6 million live in EU member countries and most are EU citizens. Many Roma in the EU are victims of prejudice and social exclusion. Groups such as Amnesty International, the European Network Against Racism and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) work to address the problems of the European Roma community. Purandcu says his party is in close contact with such foreign institutions to protect Roma rights in Turkey as well.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman