Dependencies and Tensions: Migrant Workforce in a Southern Turkish City

Bediz Yilmaz, IMIS / Université de Onasbruck & Ulas Bayraktar, Association MAYA
& Kültürhane Mersin

This paper, as the title reveals, is an attempt to decipher the complex relations that are taking place and constantly being shaped in the agricultural zones of a mid-sized city of southern Turkey at the Mediterranean coast, Mersin, and the role that forced migration plays in this landscape.

This city is in the Çukurova Plain which hosts 30% of agricultural employment along two main lines: citrus production and greenhouse vegetable and fruit cultivation (mainly under plastic cover). The locality, namely Adanalıoğlu, which this paper is about, is situated at the centre of the greenhouse production zone. The paper is based on more than two years of observant participation to humanitarian activities for Syrian refugees in the locality, the registers we took during our education support activity and the interviews conducted with nearly 40 persons from different groups.

The complexity of the locality is multilayered: first, the zone is the homeland of the Arab Alevite population, an ethnico-confessional minority settled in the region 150 years ago for agricultural purposes; second, the production in the zone is done either by the small scale farmers themselves or by the seasonal labourers when it concerns the bigger lands; third, the seasonal migrants have traditionally been Kurds and Arabs (both Sunnite) of Turkish nationality, temporarily residing in tent settlements; fourth, these groups are gradually and partly replaced since 5 years by the Syrian workforce (Sunnite) who massively settled in the city of Mersin; fifth, the Syrians either live in the tent settlements when they work for larger lands on a daily payment or in the garden-houses to take care of the plot of one family and receive a monthly salary; sixth, there is both a tangible tension between the local Arab Alevite population and the Syrian workers which had already broken into clashes to the extent that some tent settlements are evacuated; seventh, the Syrians in the garden houses remain quasi-untouched because their employers acted as guarantors; eighth, the intermediaries (i.e. the caporali) hold the control of the migrant workers’ lives so as not to leave them the tiniest subjectivity; ninth, the relation of the big landowner and the family farmer to the migrant workforce is completely different, for the first it is the exploitable cheap and docile labour needed for global competition and profit-making whereas the second is in a relation of mutual dependence for survival; and tenth, these relations take place in a total informality, state officers only intervene when there is a serious clash, otherwise totally ignore the ongoing forced labour practices and violations of human rights about minorities, decent labour, decent livelihood, refugees, education and  health.

In this paper, hence, I will try to understand the dynamics of this complexity around the basic arguments that the role of the migrant worker is not one and same for all relations of production, and, even in an environment of a given hostility between the local and migrant groups, the market forces can oblige the parties to a mutual dependence and constrained cohabitation.