Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | April 27, 2012

Young Refugees in Turkey

I am on a women’s mailing list and one of the members recently put out a call for donations for young refugees. These young men were staying in a hostel for minor refugees but had to leave when they turned 18. I collected some stuff for them and am trying to find work for them. Two of them came to get their things and I had them take some clothing to a charity and paid them a bit to do it. The two who came were from Congo and Togo. My heart went out to them, as they were only 17 and here they are stuck in Turkey. One of my Sri Lankan refugee friends once told me that Turkey was his prison because he cannot leave until he is accepted by Canada, where he has asked to go. Now these young men are in the same situation.


Recently I took two of them shopping with me so they could carry things. I bought them breakfast in the place Arun and I usually go to. I noticed that people looked at them askance. I told Seth, the boy from Congo, that Turks think that Africans here are Nigerian and distrust them because they think Nigerians sell heroine, which is actually partly true. They also distrust them because they are black. I feel really sad for them because they are stuck in this big prison, subject to racism and probably to police searches because of their colour.


I asked these young men why they had left their countries. This was in French and I am sorry to say that my French was hard put to keep up with them, so I did not totally understand. The one boy said his father had been killed in 1998 and that people had been threatening him. The one from Togo said that his father was in the military and his family thought that it would be better for him to leave the country because of unrest in Togo. Congo has been in the news quite a bit but as I said to Agbo, we never hear anything about Togo.


So now there are 6 young men from various part of Africa staying in a flat with no hot water. They are young with few skills, some not even speaking English. Some arrived here through a Nigerian agent, though this was not their destination. These boys have a rent subsidy for a month and then they are totally on their own. They have refugee status, but that does not allow them to work legally, though they are eager to do some, any, work. They are strong and well intentioned. I can come up with some work for them, but I hope that readers of this blog living in Istanbul can come up with some work for them too. They can carry things, clean, anything. They are quick to learn, honest, and just great young men. There are also 6 Afghani boys in the same situation in Zeytinburnu.


After Seth and Bruce helped me shop and carry things, they hung out at the café most of the day. They had nowhere else to go and enjoyed sitting in the sun. An old woman came to get some things from my depot and they were very helpful in carrying her bags and helping her shuffle up to the taxi. While they were here, one of the Sri Lankan refugees stopped by. I told him there was a new batch of refugees, so he went to talk to them. He has been here for 10 years and still remembers very well how it was to be a newbie. He is fairly established here and gets work painting (and cooking! He is doing the curry dinners for the café) and promised that he would try to get them some work too.

I just read a newspaper article about how Greece is complaining that Turkey is not accepting refugees that make the crossing into Greece. Having learned about how long it takes for refugees to be accepted into another country, I understand why they undertake the dangerous crossing into Greece.  I think one of the solutions would be for the receiving countries to get on the ball and start taking in the refugees.  Though I also read that in Canada refugees that are already there have now been stripped of their health care, which I think is scandalous.


I was talking with an American man about these guys and we reflected that our problems seem very small beside those of these young men. They can’t go home and it will take some time for them to go forward. Dear reader, if you can help with work or money, please get in touch with me.



  1. even though I am in the USA now, I feel the pain for your young friends.
    Good luck to you and to them all.

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