Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The plight of illegal Turkmen workers in Turkey? 

I have read an interesting post about the difficult conditions encountered by illegal immigrants from Turkmenistan in Turkey. These people often end up working in illegal sectors, doing dirty work such as drugs, human trafficking, even prostitution.

Well, in order for this post to have any value at all, I think the author must have compared the treatment Turkmens face when they travel to Russia, or other "stans" in Central Asia.

There is a central flaw in the post, and that stems from the inability to distinguish between how people treat those working the "dirty jobs" and how people treat members of a specific ethnic group living at the edge of their society.

Let us first look at the issue from the "demand" side. As long as there is a "market" for prostitutes, drug dealers, mafia thugs, human traffickers, etc, it does not matter if the Turkmens, Armenians, Sudanese, or Chinese do that kind of work. Before 1990, when Turkey was a very closed country, Kurds, Laz, Abhaz, Alevis etc, that is, Turkey's own ethnic groups did those. OK, maybe ethnicity has no role in this question, because "Turks" (whatever that might mean) from certain localities could well establish solidarity with their folk and build "hemsehri" networks.

Things do not look much different on the "supply" side. Let's assume, for some reason, Turkmens stop working in these dirty jobs in Turkey. It could happen due to the police taking stricter measures to crack down on organized crime, it could happen after stricter immigration and visa controls, or it could happen after a highly publicized incident, for example, a bloody street fight between some Turkmen youth and some Turkish youth, making it very difficult for Turkmen to continue working in these jobs. What will happen to those Turkmen? They still need money. If returning to Turkmenistan would have been an option, they would have done it already. Then, these Turkmen will go to another country, perhaps Russia, Dubai, or Poland, I don't know, and keep doing what they were doing in Turkey. They simply have to.

Let me give another example. Suppose, the Turkish government becomes worried about the plight of illegal Turkmen workers, and wants to do something to make their condition better. It passes a law that bans employing Turkmens below minimum wage. Would such an act improve these Turkmen's lot? No! Because, then, employing a Turkmen will lose all its attractiveness. Why should someone prefer Turkmen over Turks, when they will both have to be paid the full amount of the minimum wage. So, it is easy to see that if such a law is passed, the end result will be that Turkmens' place in these dirty jobs will simply be taken by other illegal immigrants.

I highly recommend the following article from the Atlantic magazine, on illegal Vietnamese immigrants on Vermont's dairy farms:

My conclusion is that there is never an easy solution to social problems. Back in 1980s, there were many Turkish workers in Saudi Arabia or Libya, working in construction jobs. At that time, these workers could earn more than they could in Turkey, hence they did not mind the difficult working conditions. They had to, there was no other choice. But today, Turkey's economy has improved, and the country is much more wealthy than it was 20 years ago. Hence, jobs in Saudi Arabia or Dubai has lost all its luster for the Turks. They can earn more money if they stay in Turkey. Have the poor working conditions and low wages ended in the Arab countries? No! The Turkish workers have simply been replaced with workers from India, Indonesia, and Philippines!

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