Friday, June 13, 2008

Turkish Takeaway

By Ayesha Ahmad

In the UK, the weekend night routine is very much the same in cities North, South, East and West of the small island. People rush off to clubs and pubs after a week’s work and swap their spirits with the alcoholic kind. By closing time, there are groups of tired friends jumping into taxis or stumbling their way through town.

Stopping off at the local takeaway (that's "take out" for you non-Brits) is customary at the end of a long night to indulge in a variety of gastronomic treats, chief among them
the infamous kebab- a recipe for a heart attack, but what else is hidden in the takeaway that the British love so much?

But how would we react if modern day slavery was kebab's number one ingredient?

Enter a typical Turkish takeaway in a quiet Cathedral city. Six or seven Turkish men hurry to serve and complete orders. One could assume that their tired faces and disengagement from the rowdy laughter and chatter of the customers is from the late and busy hour.

Outside a police car pulls up, its driver and his colleague on a break and ready for a snack.
Everything passes by; the greeting and serving of the customers. People stand around, cash in hand waiting to be fed, before returning home to their families. The whole scenario appears so normal, so ordinary.

So equal.

When a person is enslaved, often the only power they have is in their mind. The person can retreat to their mind and be free to think of their home or their family or the life they dream of having; however, slavery breaks even the mind and the person performs each task empty of their spirit and personality.

Perhaps some of these Turkish migrants are thinking of their wife and children in Turkey, whom they are working half the legal wage for to feed, clothe and provide education for their children at the expense of being apart from their family. Perhaps others are too tired and are just working because they need the shelter their “boss” provides above the takeaway shop for him and the other “staff.”

Turkey has yet to join the European Union, which means that migrants fall into the trap of being dependent on gang masters who allow them to work in their businesses without official papers. Often migrants will work alongside local workers participating in the same work during the same hours yet only receive a fraction of the pay that the local workers receive.

In addition, the demand on migrants to work longer hours for less pay coupled with a low level of English language ability means they often remain segregated from the rest of society. Assimilation is difficult: making friends or feeling like a part of the community is a major challenge. The stress of their maltreatment also weighs on their expectations of earning a good living for their family. One Turkish immigrant working in the UK asked "how could my children understand that I had to leave
my country, my home and their lives because of how much I love them?"

The decision to leave home, immigrate and enter a life where they will be potentially undocumented and exploited has changed the nature of modern-day slavery. People no longer need to be forced to leave their homes through displacement or kidnapping. Supplying counterfeit work permits and travel documents is big business. Droves of people across the world desperate to escape stagnant economies and unemployment and seek work abroad can now do so, even if it means pursuing illegal channels. In the end all it takes is money. Yet when they arrive, all many of them find is slavery and exploitation.

Modern day slavery does not necessarily require an active trafficker to coerce people into exploitation- the need to care for one's family, coupled with poverty and unemployment, often provide more than enough incentive for people to seek work away from home, whether in a major urban center in one's own country or relocating to another country entirely. In both cases, the migrant leaves home for another city or country and risks disappearing into the collective void of enslavement.

Chew on that.

For more information on migration and exploitation click here

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