Kurdish waste paper collectors in Turkey’s capital Ankara were interviewed by Mesopotamia Agency and shared their views regarding the obstacles they face as workers on the streets who, during lockdowns, are forbidden by the Turkish authorities from working on the streets.
Ankara Municipality (ABB) announced that collecting “waste” on the streets (i.e., waste paper collecting) was completely prohibited due to the Covid-19 lockdown measures. ABB stated that the financial needs of waste paper collectors would be met by the municipality’s Shelter Homes. However, financial assistance of the order of just 300 TL monthly per person has been allocated to the waste paper collectors in Ankara for roughly the past year.
The waste paper collectors, however, state that such assistance is hardly sufficient for them to live on and, therefore, they find it necessary to continue their work on the streets despite the attendant risks of the pandemic and the heavy monetary penalties they face if caught working by the local authorities.
“They tell us to ‘sit at home’ but if I don’t work one day, my children will be starving at home. We hold on to these jobs, but they harass us. We do not want anything from anyone: we do not beg, we try to work for a living. We do not hurt anyone, we do not steal. Everyone loves us in this neighbourhood”, said Metin Kahraman, a Kurdish worker who has been collecting waste paper for the past 20 years, ever since he was 17-years-old. He explained that his family had been forced to migrate to Ankara from Hakkari (Çolemêrg), a Kurdish majority city in eastern Turkey, after their village had been ‘evacuated’ by the state’s forces during the 1990’s.
Kahraman highlighted the fact that he had been fined four times during the past week alone because he had been found collecting waste paper in the street. He stated that, despite this, he has to continue working this way despite all the difficulties and obstacles in place, which also hinted at discriminatory practices as well. “When the police learned I am from Hakkari, their attitude changed. ‘You cannot work’, they said and they fined me”, he said.
Another worker, Bekir Bayhan, has been collecting waster paper since he was nineteen. “There is no other work we know of: we have to do this job. If we do not collect the waste paper, if we stay home, we stay hungry. We work 17 hours a day. We earn 70-80 TL a day. They punish us twice. We have to work day and night to pay off the fines they give us during these lockdowns”, he said.
Bayhan criticised the stay-at-home measures, because he believes that the state must act as a “social state” before ordering the citizens to stay at home. “When they say ‘stay-at-home’, they must be also saying the state will compensate you for your expenses during the pandemic. But no one financially supports us”, he noted.
İbrahim Uyar has been collecting waste paper for about fifteen years. “Despite the pandemic, we collect paper from the garbage bins because we will die of hunger if we stay at home. My father, my sister and brother, we all collect paper. Until today, we have not received any financial aid from the state. We do not have any demand from the state: we just want no more fines to be imposed on us just because we are working for our daily bread”, Uyar said.
“It is tragicomic that the state tries to confiscate money from us, which we earn on a daily basis, when the state itself is supposed to be responsible for supporting its citizens during the pandemic”.