NGOs in Turkey
Turkey has the largest refugee population in the world, hosting more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees and about 320,000 refugees from other countries. With mass amounts of people migrating to Turkey, there are several complications that must be accounted for, one being the issue of accessible education for those entering the country. Listed below are three NGOs in Turkey that have been helping refugees and local students access educational resources.

Darussafaka Society

Five young male scholars founded the Darussafaka Society in 1863 with the aim of providing quality education and resources to those in need. The Darussafaka Society provides scholarships and academic opportunities to children in need of financial aid or children who have lost a parent. Each year, 120 students receive opportunities from the Darussafaka Society. Its aim is to present equality of opportunity in education to its students, even though its students do not come from financially stable households. Darussafaka alumni have found successful careers in both the public and private sectors in Turkey. Many others have taken the opportunity to study and work abroad. As the Darussafaka Society boasts more than 155 years of experience, it is currently working to provide online learning options due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including international programs, through a virtual format.

Turkish Educational Foundation

The Turkish Educational Foundation (TEF) is one of the oldest educational philanthropic NGOs in Turkey, as it has been in service for about 51 years. Unique to the other NGOs, TEF is based in Berkeley, CA, allowing it to have more international connections and resources than foundations solely based in Turkey. TEF’s primary objective is to provide accessible education to those in need regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds. Each year, TEF supports 1,000 Turkish students with their programs. It offers several unique programs for international volunteers including a Youth Group which works to fundraise and communicate their message, and an English Learning Program where students can learn from English-speaking volunteers from around the world. TEF is currently working with its Youth Group to maintain the program’s success throughout the COVID-19 pandemic via virtual fundraisers and events.

The Imece Initiative

The Imece Initiative, one of the most prominent NGOs in Turkey, has been working since 2014 to provide education services specifically to Syrian refugees in Turkey. One of the Imece Initiative’s primary beliefs is that education should not undergo distribution based on a child’s ethnic background, but that education should be accessible to everyone. “We wanted to create a community free of political and religious considerations,” stated founder Ali Güray Yalvaçlı. “To give the opportunity for anyone, regardless of their background, to contribute with their skills and time to help those in need.” One of its most notable projects is The Solar Age Project, which supports women refugees in Turkey by teaching them life skills that help them in finding employment once they undergo establishment in the country.

With organizations like these, it is easy to see that there are lots of opportunities for both refugee and native students in Turkey to receive the best education possible. Though it can be easy to lose oneself in the negative effects of poverty in the world, organizations like the ones introduced above provide hope for a better future of education for all.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Flickr

Empowering Children in Turkey
Approximately 5.6 million children under age 15 in Turkey live in poverty. To combat that dire statistic, there are several Turkish non-governmental organizations (NGOs) empowering children in Turkey despite their poverty and their refugee status.

A large percentage of those in poverty are Turkey’s significant Syrian refugee population. With around 3.6 million Syrian refugees, Turkey hosts the world’s largest Syrian refugee population. More than 71% of Syrian refugees live in moderate or extreme poverty. Further, about 50% of  Syrian refugees living in Turkey are under 18 years old.

Luckily, several organizations target these Syrian refugees and other impoverished Turkish children to empower them to succeed in gaining the education, skills and confidence they need to thrive as Turkish adults. Here are overviews of three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) empowering children in Turkey.

Darussafaka Society

Founded in 1863, Darussafaka Society initially sought to provide equal educational opportunities for talented and impoverished Turkish children who had lost their fathers. The Society supports fifth graders through high school seniors who qualify with an entrance exam at Darussafaka schools. In 2012, the Society broadened its mission to include children who lost mothers as well as children who lost their fathers.

The Darussafaka Society provides a full scholarship and board to Darussafaka boarding schools. On top of fully-covered tuition and board, the Darussafaka Society covers the costs of clothing, food and other living accommodations to support qualified students as well as their guardians.

Today, 1,000 children in Turkey benefit from the Darussafaka Society. Darussafaka schools and the Darussafaka Society open doors to a world-class education. Darussafaka alumni include some of Turkey’s renowned mathematicians, artists, entertainers, financiers and government officials. Also, the schools take no state funding, truly reflecting equal opportunity for education.

Lab4Future

In 2020, Telecoms Sans Frontiere launched Lab4Future for Syrian refugee children in Gaziantep. The program offers free workshops on basic digital literacy for students ages 6 to 17. Through the workshops that Labs4Future provided, refugee children gain the basic knowledge to enter schools and acclimated to Turkish society. Each workshop focuses on different skills and opens up more opportunities for the children.

Lab4Future recognizes the trauma and exploitation refugees face; therefore, its approach centers on the well-being and comfort of the children, not only their education. It promotes self-determination and critical thinking while simultaneously offering four workshops: Computing and Internet, Programming and Robotics and Electricity and Fabrication.

The Computing and Internet workshop covers the basic information necessary to use and understand computers and tablets, such as emailing, surfing the internet or interpreting fake news. The Programming and Robotics workshop aims to introduce programming in an engaging way. Meanwhile, the Electricity workshop teaches basic principles of circuitry and allows students to apply experiments to real-world situations and the Fabrication workshop provides students access to digital fabrication tools.

Association in Support of Contemporary Living

The Association in Support of Contemporary Living, the third of the featured NGOs empowering children in Turkey, focuses on financial support for quality education. This organization raises money to fund a wide variety of scholarships and grants to support children, youth and university-age adults. During the past 30 years, the Association in Support of Contemporary Living has funded over 37,000 scholarships for university students and almost 90,000 scholarships for girls in secondary school and high school. Importantly, the scholarships for girls support gender equity which, in turn, contributes to eliminating poverty in Turkey.

Beyond direct financial support, the Association in Support of Contemporary Living has built two high schools, six preschools, 32 village schools and one university education center. This is the much-needed educational infrastructure for students in poverty. While the Association for Contemporary Living has created numerous other supports, just these few examples reflect the immense positive impact this organization has on Turkish youth.

Empowering Children in Turkey

Globally, children face the catastrophic consequences of the adult world, and poverty remains one of those catastrophes. In Turkey, poverty for children is a significant issue, especially for refugees fleeing the circumstances of their home countries. Organizations including the three NGOs featured above provide significant support for the children living in poverty. Ultimately, they also support a pathway for students to become more capable individuals in modern society.

Though these NGOs provide essential resources and basic skills to support individuals, the fight to end poverty and improve children’s lives must come with enormous change, such as advocacy for governmental policy changes that further combat poverty and ensure education. However, these three NGOs empowering children in Turkey lay the groundwork to advocate for change and positively impact people’s lives.

– Mikey Redding
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Turkey
Conditions seemed to improve for the disadvantaged in Turkey for a decade-long period through the early 2000s. When first elected, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan purported to lift the country out of the severe economic recession in progress at the time. Unemployment and poverty rates plummeted until 2013 when civil unrest roiled after the Turkish government’s violent response to the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. Foreign investments in Turkish government bonds fell from 25% in May 2013 to 5% by 2020. Now, Turkey is once again experiencing a poverty crisis. Here are five facts about poverty in Turkey.

5 Facts About Poverty in Turkey

  1. Turkey has been in a financial crisis since 2018. The Turkish lira is devaluing, worth only $0.12 to the U.S. dollar and $0.10 to the euro. The rate of inflation reached 17.53% in July 2021. This means that along with many Turks losing their jobs, they must grapple with the rapidly growing costs of basic necessities. Food inflation alone has increased by 20% since 2020.
  2. COVID-19 is exacerbating poverty in Turkey. About 17 million people out of a population of 81 million lived below the poverty line in 2019. Now, the poverty rate has increased to about 12%. Many Turks are struggling to find employment and cannot pay for accommodation or electricity. These conditions have additionally prevented children from continuing education remotely.
  3. Turks are finding new ways to secure themselves in an unpredictable economic environment. Investments in cryptocurrency, stocks, gold and foreign currency are gaining traction among Turkish people. Many fear losing their savings if they do not take such actions. However, even these methods may be at risk of destabilizing as Turkey’s economic crisis progresses.
  4. It is increasingly difficult for the Turkish government to accept Syrian refugees. This is largely due to the continuing economic crisis and lessening support for Syrian immigration from citizens. The European Union assisted 1.6 million of the most vulnerable refugees through a program called Emergency Social Safety Net. Each family received monthly cash transfers of 120 Turkish lira for each family member. This has also helped the Turkish government manage struggling refugees. Poverty in Turkey is impacting the country’s ability to serve as a safe location for Syrian refugees.
  5. The World Bank is taking steps to respond to increasing poverty rates. In the fiscal year 2020, the World Bank established the Safer Schooling and Distance Education Project, providing $160 million worth of aid. Two new programs added in 2021 include the Emergency Firm Support Project, worth $300 million in aid, and Rapid Support for Micro and Small Enterprises During COVID-19, worth $500 million. The programs aim to preserve jobs for the Turkish people. So far, this fiscal year, the World Bank has given Turkey $1.5 billion in assistance. Many other World Bank projects will continue to mitigate poverty in Turkey.

Looking Ahead

The state of poverty in Turkey is in flux. The country continues to struggle with an economic and refugee crisis in the midst of a pandemic. With the support of the European Union and the World Bank, however, Turkish people in need will have the ability to combat poverty.

– Safira Schiowitz
Photo: Flickr

Natural Disasters in TurkeyThe year 2021 is setting records in extreme heat and droughts, and Turkey is currently facing its worst heatwave in 30 years. On July 28, 2021, wildfires began to spread across the southwest coastline of Turkey. A total of 156 destructive blazes erupted and killed nine people, during these natural disasters in Turkey. The strong winds, low humidity and temperatures above 204 degrees Fahrenheit helped spread the fires quickly and made it extremely difficult to work towards putting out the fires. According to the Mugla municipality, wildfires have already affected more than 230,000 acres in Turkey.

Under Fire

Disputes have emerged as to whether or not Turkey’s government was prepared to handle such natural disasters. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is receiving criticism for not purchasing properly equipped firefighting planes despite knowing that Turkey often faces wildfires.

The fires began in mountainous southwest Turkey, meaning ground intervention was not possible. Despite the Turkish Aeronautical Association containing previous fires with planes, the government claimed to have no water-dropping planes in inventory.

Floods Follow Fire

Changing weather is causing more extreme environmental events throughout the world, and Turkey is facing several of these disasters. By August 9, 2021, heavy rainfall helped put out all but two fires. Just days after, starting August 11, 2021, Turkey faced flash floods that swept through the Black Sea Coast. With a current death toll of 77 and 47 people still missing, the torrents of water and debris are devastating from these Natural DIsasters in Turkey.

The most heavily hit area is Kastamonu province, where apartment buildings experienced destruction after the Ezine river burst its banks. Additionally, the floods collapsed buildings, destroyed bridges, clogged the streets and cut the power supply. Over 1,700 people were evacuated, with boats and helicopters rescuing many citizens.

Natural Disasters and Poverty

There is a clear connection between natural disasters and poverty; natural disasters disproportionately affect poor people. Following the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Turkey’s poverty rate rose above 12%, meaning that these natural disasters will heavily affect many people. Unfortunately, the Turkish government did little to deal with the economic impact of COVID-19, and the lack of support contributed to rising poverty levels.

When facing poverty, any amount of impact on assets or consumption levels is a threat. Often, those facing poverty have to accept living in more risky areas due to affordability, which can lead to devastating outcomes during natural disasters. Additionally, people in low-income countries have less infrastructure to protect them.

A World Bank report found that the impact of extreme weather events on poverty is even more devastating than previously thought. Each year, natural disasters cause consumption losses of $520 billion and push 26 million people into poverty.

Often, events like these increase the damage to buildings, infrastructure and agriculture. These losses only represent the losses of those wealthy enough to lose something, and they fail to show the magnitude that the world’s poor suffer. With this idea in mind, the World Bank warns that natural disasters are a huge impediment to ending global poverty, and it is essential that poor people receive social and financial protection from unavoidable disasters.

The Good News

Poland sent firefighters, police officers and equipment to Turkey in order to help deal with the fires and flooding. Additionally, hundreds of Turkish volunteers banded together to help fight the fire. Volunteers formed a human chain to help carry equipment to firefighters and even put out a hillside fire with instruction from fire crews.

Turkish Philanthropy Funds has set up a Wildfire Relief Fund in order to provide support during the wildfires in Turkey. This support includes provisions of food and emergency aid to help those affected.

– Jacqueline Zembek
Photo: Flickr

Economic Violence Against Women in Turkey On March 20, 2021, Turkey announced its withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a treaty focused on combatting violence against women. Violence against women is a significant problem in Turkish society. Violence against women takes many forms, but economic violence against women in Turkey is one type of violence that is particularly problematic for poverty reduction.

Defining Economic Violence

Also known as economic abuse, economic violence against women is a form of violence where women have no financial autonomy. Another person, often a husband or father, controls the women’s monetary resources and leaves her in a state of dependency. The Istanbul Convention includes economic violence in both its definitions of violence against women and domestic violence. Examples of economic violence against women include:

  • Barring women from accessing work and educational opportunities.
  • Preventing women from accessing the necessary funds for resources such as food.
  • Excluding women from decisions about their household’s income.

Economic Violence Against Women in Turkey

Economic violence is an issue many women face in Turkey. Women generally complete a disproportionately high amount of their households’ domestic work. According to the United Nations, Turkish women spend approximately “19.2% of their time” on wageless domestic work in contrast to the 3.7% of the time that men spend on unpaid domestic work. Placing women in a position where they spend so much time on unpaid work makes women likely to become dependent on male family members and susceptible to economic violence.

Social expectations and perceptions of the roles of men and women play an important part in economic violence against women in Turkey. Perceptions of women as performers of domestic work and men as laborers create an expectation for women to engage in unpaid labor, making them susceptible to economic violence. When Turkish women are members of the workforce, which only 35% of Turkish women currently are, they accept the seizure of their income by their husbands due to cultural norms of male “dominance in the domestic environment.”

Working to End Economic Violence Against Women

Ending economic violence against women is critical to ending other forms of violence against women. While exposure to economic violence does not guarantee that women will experience other forms of violence, dependency on a male family member or partner makes women more susceptible to other forms of abuse from that person.

One significant challenge to preventing economic violence against women in Turkey is that the country currently lacks adequate systems to monitor most aspects of its progress toward Sustainable Development Goals concerning gender equality. Consequently, data about Turkish women is incomplete, which makes it challenging to determine the extent of the economic violence against women in Turkey.

With the data that is currently available, researchers have identified factors that reduce rates of economic violence against women. One critical factor is education. Research shows that men with high levels of education are less likely to perpetrate economic violence against their wives or female partners than less-educated men. Factors such as expanding employment opportunities for women and preventing substance abuse among men are also associated with lower rates of economic violence against women.

Organizational Efforts to Economically Empower Turkish Women

Several organizations focus on improving Turkish women’s economic rights. The International Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW) is one of these organizations. BPW Turkey implements several programs in Turkey to improve economic opportunities for women. Its Pace to Employment and Assurance for a Respectable Life (PEARL) program teaches women skills they need to be financially independent. Furthermore, BPW Turkey’s Civil Initiative Strategic Research Center (SISAM) improves awareness and understanding of the U.N. Women’s Empowerment Principles and provides educational programming on these principles to entities such as local governments and human resources staff.

Economic violence against women in Turkey is an ongoing issue, but it is not unpreventable. Working with both men and women can help women obtain and maintain autonomy over financial resources and break the cycle of violence against women.

Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

mint countries Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey, also known as the “MINT” countries, are the fastest-growing emerging economies in the world. While COVID-19 has socially, physically and economically impacted the MINT countries, the nations are still playing a tremendous role in helping alleviate poverty for millions of people.

Mexico

Mexico is the perfect example of an emerging economy. Due to its strong trade relationship with the United States, its GDP is higher than almost all developing countries. However, Mexico’s overall GDP is not yet enough to meet the standards for a developed country. Similarly, while the poverty rate remains high in Mexico, the percent of people living on less than $3.20 has dropped from 12.8% in 2010 to 6.6% in 2018.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mexico’s economy has declined sharply. In fact, the Mexican GDP decreased by 8.3% during 2020, its largest drop since the Great Depression. While the country has partially recovered from its economic downturn due to increased trade, it still has a long way to make up for its GDP drop from 2020.

Indonesia

Indonesia is the fourth-most populous nation in the entire world and ranks 56th in economic freedom. This statistic is a result of low tax burdens and increasing political participation. Similarly, the country is one of the top-ranked Asia-Pacific countries in terms of its economy and the country has seen steady financial improvements since 2017. In fact, Indonesia cut its poverty rate by more than 50% from 1999 to 2020.

While COVID-19 had major effects on the country, economic activity has rebounded significantly. For example, in July 2020, the government eased lockdown restrictions, which allowed for increased exports and stronger government support. Without the burdens of the COVID-19 recession, Indonesia can continue to develop its economy and reduce poverty.

Nigeria

Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa. However, the country saw relatively minimal growth during the last few years because of high oil prices. The drops in oil prices are significant because Nigeria is Africa’s biggest exporter and contains Africa’s largest natural gas reserves. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic has had disastrous effects on the country. The economy contracted by 6.1% in the second quarter of 2020 with 27% of Nigerians unemployed.

However, the country has made recent strides to tackle poverty and improve its economy. Due to eased lockdowns in the country, Nigeria’s oil prices have improved. Furthermore, its economy has grown by 0.5% in the first quarter of 2021, helping the country exit its COVID-19 related recession. In fact, the president of Nigeria inaugurated the National Steering Committee of the National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy (NPRGS) in June 2021. The inauguration marks Nigeria’s commitment to raising 100 million people out of poverty within 10 years, fueling optimism about the country’s future.

Turkey

Turkey, one of the wealthiest MINT countries, has had an impressive economic run since the 2000s due to open trade with other countries and cooperation with the EU. Similarly, the Turkish government has implemented government reforms in most impoverished regions of the country. These reforms successfully cut poverty rates in half.

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, Turkey has been able to recover, and its economy remains strong. While the leaders of Turkey have been accused of political corruption and Turkey saw a COVID-19 spike in April 2021, the number of infections has dropped by 72% since then because of a total lockdown measure. Similarly, Turkey’s recovery from COVID-19 is expected to boost the country’s GDP by 5% by the end of 2021.

Even with the factors of COVID-19, political instability, corruption and more, the MINT countries have shown resilience and progress. By decreasing poverty, implementing reforms and recovering from the pandemic, the MINT countries move toward a bright future.

– Calvin Franke
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in TurkeyAfter the 2018 currency crisis impeded Turkey’s downward trend in poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented another major setback for the country’s poverty reduction goals. When Turkey suffered its first wave of the pandemic, the country lost 2.6 million jobs, which made up 9.2% of total employment. Populations living above the poverty line, but with high vulnerabilities to economic insecurity, have endured the brunt of these job losses, accounting for six out of 10 of the job losses. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey has been severe as COVID-19 disproportionately impacts the impoverished.

The Economic Impacts of COVID-19

The short-term effects of the pandemic on limiting job prospects and on low-income families are immense. In a survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), more than seven out of 10 respondents from Turkey said they are “concerned” or “very concerned” about their ability to make ends meet in the short term.

Further, the fear of job insecurity has reached a high in the country. In September 2020, a record 1.4 million people were too discouraged to search for work, up nearly threefold from the previous year. A poll by Istanbul Economics Research found that nearly half of those with jobs were “very afraid” of losing them by winter.

A notable rise in the prices of basic goods and services has also added to the concern of low-income families. Items such as bread and cereals, unprocessed foods and transportation rose by 16.3%, 19.8% and 14.7% respectively.

The true extent of the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey may be much more than first anticipated. Turkey’s official unemployment rate hovered at 12% to 13% during the pandemic. However, alternative calculation methods, which consider those who stopped actively looking for jobs out of despair or due to COVID-19 restrictions, claim a 40% unemployment rate.

COVID-19 Impacts Informal Workers and Working Women

Another impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey is the disproportionate impact on certain segments of the low-income population compared to other segments. The pandemic has resulted in a bulk of job losses for informal and lower-skilled workers. At the peak of the pandemic, informal workers suffered a -0.25% change in year-on-year employment, more than five times what formal workers have endured.

In addition, female workers were three times more likely to become unemployed during the pandemic compared to their male counterparts. This is especially due to Turkish female workers’ higher concentration in jobs that lockdown measures highly affect, such as hospitality, food and tourism.

Recovery Strategies and Results

Turkey’s government swiftly and decisively implemented notable mitigation policies to deal with the crisis, which consisted of increased unemployment insurance benefits, social transfers and unpaid leave subsidies amounting to a welfare shield of about $6.2 billion.

Without these mitigation policies, projections determine that the rise in poverty could have been three times higher. These mitigation policies fostered a significant job recovery in the country. As of September 2020, the country has regained 72% of the lost jobs with the help of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, which contributed monthly allowances to approximately five million laid-off employees.

Room for Improvement

Despite the government’s efforts to minimize poverty stemming from the pandemic, there is room for the government to do more to overcome the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey. While the relief packages of similar countries have reached up to 9% of their GDPs, Turkey’s total relief packages have amounted to less than 1% of its estimated GDP in 2020.

Increased comprehensive government intervention to deal with the rise in poverty is an idea that appears to resonate well with the public. About 80% of Turkey’s citizens think the government should be doing “more” or “much more” to ensure their “economic and social security and well-being.”

Greater investments by the Turkish government, as well as the short-term and long-term development of more comprehensive social safety nets, would mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey. Additionally, upskilling, training and other active labor interventions by the Turkish Employment Agency (ISKUR) could be key in closing the worker gaps that the pandemic has widened.

– Gabriel Sylvan
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Azerbaijan
An Azerbaijani woman called Gulnara took a job in Turkey to support her daughter and her sick father. Upon her arrival, Gulnara’s contact in Turkey took her passport and forced her into prostitution. After a year, Gulnara was able to escape and return to Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani Government Department on Combating Trafficking in Persons referred her to a shelter for human trafficking survivors. The IOM-implemented shelter is part of an initiative that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funds. Azerbaijan has been working tirelessly to combat human trafficking to ensure vulnerable people like Gulnara receive protection.

5 Ways to Combat Human Trafficking in Azerbaijan

  1. Decrease the Gender Gap. Azerbaijan has one of the highest gender inequality gaps of the countries that left the Soviet Union. Women lack the economic opportunities that men have. The women’s workforce participation rate in 2018 was 68.7% in contrast to 73.9% for men, a statistic that has barely changed since 2012. Further, females form 96.6% of people who do not work due to household and caregiving responsibilities. Minimal economic prospects can lead to people being lured into sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Providing women with more and improved economic opportunities could help prevent these situations.
  2. Provide Long-term Assistance. In 2018, the Anti-Trafficking Review published a study in which it interviewed 22 Azerbaijani survivors of human trafficking. The survivors believed that long-term help, including assistance with “job placement and family reunification,” could better help them rebuild their lives. Only nine of the 22 interviewees had full-time paid jobs at the time, while nine others had no paid jobs at all. Secure employment provides a steady income flow to economically empower women.
  3. Reunite Survivors and Families. Victims of human trafficking in Azerbaijan often end up disconnected from their families. By reconnecting with their families, victims can return to some semblance of normalcy. However, there is a stigma surrounding sex work that can impact familial relations. If organizations work to combat this stigma, survivors can repair relationships and gain much-needed emotional familial support that will reduce the chance of victims falling prey to human trafficking again.
  4. Address the Root Causes. People struggling economically, like Gulnara, are prime targets for human trafficking. Using foreign aid to create more programs to combat poverty could decrease human trafficking in Azerbaijan. In a 2020 report, the U.S. Department of State noted that Azerbaijan had increased the funds allocated for victim protection and shelters from $86,760 to $114,530. This is an important increase, but it only helps after the fact. Greater funds could go toward helping people living below the poverty line before traffickers lure them into human trafficking.
  5. Prosecute Human Trafficking in Azerbaijan. The U.S. Department of State encourages Azerbaijan to convict more traffickers and issue harsher sentences as many Azerbaijani judges issue suspended sentences. In 2018, 20 traffickers received suspended sentences. The Azerbaijan government can create a powerful deterrent by more effectively convicting human traffickers.

Azerbaijan’s Progress

In 2020, Azerbaijan remained on the Tier 2 Watch List of the U.S. Department of State. This designation means the country “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.” From 2020 through 2024, the government of Azerbaijan’s National Action Plan on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings will target and address the root causes of human trafficking while improving support services for victims.

USAID Assistance

Since 2015, USAID has supported three shelters in Azerbaijan. These shelters “provided direct assistance to more than 100 confirmed and presumed victims of trafficking” between 2015 and 2018. The shelters also helped more than 1,000 people who were vulnerable to trafficking. The shelters provide “psychological, medical and legal support” services.

Azerbaijan created a human trafficking hotline center to provide information on services and relay necessary information to law enforcement officials. As of 2021, the hotline aims to incorporate an online system to allow workers to screen calls in a more efficient and detailed manner.

Human trafficking in Azerbaijan is progressing in the right direction. With commitment and continuity, Azerbaijan can improve its human trafficking tier ranking, protecting thousands of vulnerable people in the process.

Alessandra Heitmann
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Tuba Büyüküstün with UNICEF
Tuba Büyüküstün is one of Turkey’s most famous and highest-paid actresses. Büyüküstün’s work in television and film has brought her both fame and critical acclaim. In fact, Büyüküstün has received five prestigious Televizyon Dizisi awards, in addition to a nomination for the International Emmy Award for Best Actress for her performance in “20 Dakika.” Moreover, the actress has a large social media following with 5.2 million Instagram followers. In recent years, Büyüküstün has used her celebrity status and online platform for humanitarian advocacy. More specifically, Tuba Büyüküstün has partnered with UNICEF to advocate for children’s health and development.

UNICEF’s Mission

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) began in 1946 to provide aid to countries recovering from World War II. The organization’s primary goal is to provide humanitarian aid to children around the world. Its celebrity ambassador program began in 1954 with actor Danny Kaye. The program aims to bring attention to the organization’s mission through celebrity platforms. Today, more than 200 celebrities from around the world, including Selena Gomez and P!nk, currently participate in this awareness program.

Büyüküstün’s Involvement with UNICEF

Tuba Büyüküstün began her partnership with UNICEF in 2014. Since then, Büyüküstün has participated in a number of campaigns and relief programs with the nonprofit organization. For instance, for her first official UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador mission, she visited children at a camp for Syrian refugees in Kilis, Turkey. Büyüküstün spoke to the children and engaged with them in their daily learning activities. Afterward, the actress and ambassador participated in the opening ceremony of the first UNICEF school located near the camps. In 2018, Büyüküstün also joined in the “One Day at a Museum” initiative, which brings Turkish and Syrian children to various art exhibits and interactive experiences at the CerModern Museum in Ankara.

In July 2020, Tuba Büyüküstün and UNICEF joined forces with the World Health Organization (WHO) to educate the public about the risks and implications of COVID-19. Nearly 35,000 people tuned in to hear from Büyüküstün and WHO professionals.

Why Büyüküstün Partnered with UNICEF

The actress and mother of two have spoken about her dedication to UNICEF’s work. Büyüküstün stated that she is greatly honored to work with UNICEF as a mother. She claimed that “Children are always innocent, no matter where they live.” Büyüküstün explained that she is part of UNICEF because “[children] are all our children regardless of their religion, language, ethnicity and gender. And I think it is the responsibility of everyone to create a world where all children can have equal opportunities.”

Büyüküstün’s outreach is a great example of a public figure using social influence for good. Thanks, in part, to Goodwill Ambassadors such as Büyüküstün, UNICEF is able to advocate for the well-being of children throughout the world.

Nina Lehr
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Turkey's Invisible Gypsy Population
The Dom community has been present in Turkey and the Middle East for thousands of years. Like their more popular Romani counterpart, the Dom people have roots in the Indian subcontinent. Throughout the ages, the Dom people have faced exile and oppression. The Dom people are Turkey’s invisible population. However, the villainization of historically nomadic peoples is more prevalent now than ever. The growing disdain for ethnic non-Turks has made the situation worse. Many Dom people are now at severe risk of food scarcity and homelessness. Dom communities face much of the brunt of xenophobia in Turkey today.

The Dom Throughout the Ages

Thousands of years ago, India and the surrounding regions were home to dozens of different languages and nomadic peoples. One of these languages was Domari and the speakers were the Dom. The name “Dom” is also the name of one of the lowest castes in the Hindu religion. However, it is unclear whether the two groups relate due to sparse historical documentation and sources.

While the more popular Romani nomads migrated out of the Indian subcontinent in the ninth and 10th centuries BCE, the Dom migrated in the 13th and 14th centuries, primarily into the Middle East and Anatolia. Most Dom populations reside in Syria, Turkey, Palestine, the broader Levant region and potentially Iraq and Iran.

Within these regions, the Dom and other nomadic Indo-Aryan groups have faced centuries of ethnic discrimination, even after having adopted sedentary lifestyles. Many Dom communities maintain the same religion, cultural practices and languages of the regions in which they reside, with the Domari language becoming less and less known in Dom communities.

The Dom in the Present Day

In the present day, the Dom population in Turkey primarily resides in the south-eastern region of the country, near Iraq and Iran. Before the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, there was also a sizable concentration of Dom living in Aleppo. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan currently leads Turkey, representing the conservative, Islamist-based Justice and Development Party (abbreviated to AKP in Turkish). The AKP is known for its opposition to both the growing Syrian Refugee presence and the country’s Kurdish population. One 2019 poll found that 68% of AKP supporters expressed disdain for the Syrian refugee presence in Turkey, with similar figures coming from the party’s political allies.

In the same year, Erdoğan brought his disdain for ethnic Kurds to America, culminating in the presentation of an anti-Kurdish video to then-President Donald Trump. To add fuel to the fire, these two groups often coincide with one another, with many Syrian Kurds seeking refuge in Turkey.

In the middle of these tensions lies the Dom population of Turkey. The Dom population often goes unseen entirely among the regional turmoil. However, the Syrian Civil War and Kurdish tensions in Turkey are also affecting the Turkish Dom. Coincidentally, the regions that are home to Kurds and refugees in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, are where the Dom live.

The Dom: Turkey’s Invisible Population

As a result of the historical marginalization of the Dom, there is ambiguity in regards to Dom communities today. For instance, there is no official census for the Dom population in Turkey. Many Dom community members also reject the “gypsy” label as it could potentially result in further alienation, instead opting to refer to themselves as Arab or Turkmen.

The Dom experience some of the highest rates of homelessness, food scarcity and illiteracy among Turkey’s marginalized groups. Dom families struggle to find housing, with entire communities relegated to living in makeshift shelters or tents. Many Dom living in refugee camps have attested to ethnic discrimination in food distribution by NGOs. Those not inhabiting refugee camps lack access to food. The Dom population has far lower rates of literacy and formal education than their ethnically Turkish counterparts.

Organizational Relief for the Dom

Luckily, organizations providing aid and relief for the Dom population in Turkey are working hard to improve the situation. Many regional organizations, like the Tarlabaşı Community Center in Istanbul, are committed to providing much-needed resources to Dom communities and refugees in need.

Additionally, one Turkish-based organization, Kırkayak Kültür – Dom Research Workshop, is gaining traction as one of the leading organizations for the Dom population in Turkey. Founded in 2011, Kırkayak Kültür is an advocacy group fighting for policy change and raising awareness. It has taken an active role in bringing awareness for the Dom people among NGOs and governmental institutions.

With the physical hardships and the centuries-long social ostracization of Dom communities, relief for Syrian and Turkish Dom is necessary. If Dom’s culture, language and identity are to survive, preservation and advocacy efforts like Kırkayak Kültür are essential. Through their work in this area, community organizations in Turkey are leading the charge with aid for Turkey’s invisible population.

– Madeleine Youngblood
Photo: Unsplash