The worst-off of Istanbul: Pakistani and Afghan waste paper collectors

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This article was first published on our partner site, Granthshala Turkish

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Waste paper collectors in many places in Istanbul, especially the Sultangazi and Gaziosmanpaa districts, are home to Afghan and Pakistani refugees.

Waste paper warehouses often employ them because they work for low wages and are less likely to leave.


The vehicle used by the Waste Paper Collector belongs to the warehouse owner. Earnings are calculated based on the amount of paper collected daily and payments are made weekly.

Some warehouse owners also provide housing for the refugees they employ. Unemployed refugees who have no place to stay often choose to collect scrap paper because of the free accommodation.

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They earn somewhere from 50 to 70 Turkish Lira (£4-£6) per day. 17-year-old Faisal came to Turkey from Afghanistan six months ago. His family paid smugglers USD 900 (£656) to send him to Istanbul for work.

Along with his friends from Afghanistan, who collect paper from garbage cans in Gaziosmanpasa, Faisal also started collecting garbage for a living. Faisal and his friends live in a residence near the waste paper godown, arranged by his owner.

There are 25 people living in the house, mostly Afghans, but there are also some Pakistanis. Each room sleeps seven or eight people and on average they earn 400 Turkish lira (£33) a week. Income varies depending on the amount of paper collected – those who collect the most can earn up to 500 Turkish Lira (£40) a week.

Every month they send 1000 Turkish Lira (£80) from their salary to their families in Afghanistan. With recent raids and arrests on waste paper warehouses in some areas of Istanbul, Afghan and Pakistani paper collectors in Gaziosmanpaa and Sultangazi now face fears of raids and subsequent unemployment.

“I was a nurse in Kabul, my family thinks I am working in the textile industry in Turkey,” said Mohamed, 33, who lives in the same flat as Faisal and works for the same waste paper warehouse. That is, came to Turkey four months ago.

Before coming to Turkey, he was a nurse in a hospital in Kabul and left after he lost his job.

When I asked Mohammad if I could take his picture, he refused and only allowed me to take a picture of his hands and the car.

talking to independent turkey, he explains why he didn’t want to be photographed.

“I used to be a nurse in Kabul and when I lost my job, I moved to Turkey. I am married and have three children. My family is in Kabul, but they don’t know that I collect paper from garbage cans in Turkey. They think I work in the textile industry.

“I am ashamed to tell them that I collect paper from garbage cans. If my photo collecting paper were to be published, they can see it, so I don’t want to be photographed. I do not understand why [the government] Wants to ban it. We are not harming anyone.”

Muhammad continues: “I would love to work as a nurse in Turkey as well, but I don’t have a work or residence permit. I’m here illegally and can’t speak Turkish, so it’s hard to find a job. No work is being found, so I am collecting waste paper.”

Speaking about the recent raids on waste paper godowns, Mohamed says: “I have heard that something is happening with waste paper collection, but I don’t know exactly what is happening. I heard they can ban it. If we are not able to collect paper, we will be left out in the cold, with neither a place to sleep nor a job.

Mohamed says that after collecting the paper from the box, he finds old clothes and shoes, “The clothes I am wearing are items that I found in the box. Collection of waste paper is very tough, but I have to work to earn money.”

Shauni, 18, came to Turkey from Afghanistan three months ago. He was doing day job till now, but after being unemployed joined his friends in collecting paper from bins.

Shauni himself, weighing 60 kg, carries 70-80 kg of paper to the warehouse at a time. Like others, he also earns around 400 Turkish lira a week and sends 1000 lira every month to his family in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

Shauni explains why he does this work: “There is no work in Afghanistan, so I came here to work. I wanted to work in the textile industry, but because I had no experience, I could not find any work. It is very difficult to collect waste paper, I sometimes carry about 70-80 kg by this cart, I am very tired. Fifteen people live in the flat I live in, but I have to work to earn money. If they ban paper collecting, I’ll have to look for something else.”

They work in unsafe conditions and live in unsanitary houses overcrowded, but they have no other choice.

Nonetheless, even under these circumstances, they are happy to be able to work and send money to their families.

“We make very little money, our work is hard and very dirty, but we are happy to send money to our families,” he says.

Ahmed, 25, a resident of Kabul, has been in Turkey for two months. “I earn 400-500 Turkish lira a week and send 1000 lira to my family in Kabul. My mother, father and seven siblings are supported by the money I send,” he says.

Ahmed recounts how he arrived in Turkey and began collecting scrap paper: “There is no work or education in Afghanistan. I was not able to study and start a career, so I came here. But because I work illegally and don’t speak the language, I can’t find a good job. I can only work in construction or collect paper from trash cans.

“Because the boss gives us a place to live when we collect the waste paper, we don’t even have to worry about renting the house.

Ahmed says, “We make very little money, our work is very hard and very dirty… because of this some of our friends have got wounds on their hands,” adds, “We are tired, but We are happy to send money to our family.

“If we were in Afghanistan, we would not be working; We will not be able to support our family. “

Translated by Ata Turkoglu and proofread by Meric Seneus. Reviewed by Esra Turk, Touba Ali and Celine Asas


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