Figures show that the number of wealthy people in Turkey has increased by 35% compared to the same period last year after the pandemic, according to the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency’s (BRSA’s) latest data.
However, the streets tell another story. When an MA reporter took his camera and recorded what he has seen on the streets of the city of Urfa in the southeastern province of Urfa (Riha), at the end of the day all he got on his memory card were frames of people suffering from hunger and poverty.
The poverty reflected in the camera lens was actually recorded in a wealthy part of the city. Known as Atatürk Street, it is famed as ‘the boulevard of the rich’, but during the lockdown, it has gained an entirely different outlook, which can only be called ‘the boulevard of the wretched of the earth’.
Some people are seen collecting food from the garbage of luxury venues there. Some people are seen working as waste paper collectors: they earn their livelihood by collecting recyclable material from the garbage.
At the entrance to the street, where the most luxurious hotels are to be seen, the MA reporter came across two refugees. Two Syrian brothers – aged 13 and 20 – work together collecting waste paper. They work 10 hours a day and they earn 15 Turkish Lira for every 100kg of paper they deliver to the recyling company. Their average income is 45 TL a day (or UK £3.82 per day, as per today’s mid-market exchange rate, as determined by xe.com and exchangerates.org.uk).
Construction workers were also visible to the reporter since the early hours of the morning. Apparently, their boss did not give them any paid leave to stay home during the lockdowns and the new luxury projects for the rich who will reside in this ‘boulevard of the rich’ obviously have to be built even during the pandemic at the cost of the workers’ health and safety.
Right next to the construction site is the old building of Urfa Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This building has been host to many businessmen and women, owning and managing the biggest companies of the region, but during the lockdown, all the reporter could see were child workers, aged between 12 and 15, collecting plastic near the building.
Another person struggling to survive in ‘the boulevard of the rich’ is Ahmet. He is waiting for customers as he attempts to sell handkerchiefs in the street. Since he has Down’s Syndrome, he is one of the most invisible and vulnerable people in Turkish society with little chance of a proper education, job opportunities or the means to ‘join’ society in a non-vulnerable state. Ahmet says that he did not earn enough money today, but he will be here again tomorrow.