GAZIANTEP, Turkey – Dotted around the parks and streets of towns in southern Turkey, there are Syrian children selling small packets of tissues. They loiter in parks and on street corners, hoping passers-by will take pity and give them a Turkish Lira (TL) ($0.4) or two.
The total number of Syrians in Turkey is over 1.7 million. Only about 15% of them live in camps while the rest are living outside camps. More than 900,000 of them are children.
In the passage way under a small bridge in Gaziantep’s central park, Hiba, 8, smiles as she offers passers-by the meager package she has to sell.
“My sisters and I make 15 to 20 TL a day together,” she says. Hiba left Aleppo eight months ago with her mother, father, four sisters and younger brother Mohammed. The constant air strikes on the city forced the family to flee to Turkey.
There are about 600,000 Syrian children of school age in Turkey. Nearly two-thirds of them are out of school. These children are at risk of becoming a lost generation.
Hiba skips towards her sister Abir, 10, who is also selling tissues and a few meters further down the park is her mother.
Their father has been away for a few days, unsuccessfully looking for work in the city of Konya, some 550 km to the north west of Gaziantep, but their mother sits on a blanket in the open, like a base for her children to deliver their earnings.
“We come here every day to sell what we can”, says their mother. “Others come to the park to play, but we come to earn enough money for food.”
“Back in Syria, I used to help my children for hours with their school work if they had an exam to prepare for,” she adds. “But now when we get home we barely have energy to keep our eyes open.”
The Turkish Government is working on easing procedures for Syrian refugees to work legally in Turkey, but until the system is in place, thousands of undocumented people resort to working outside the system.
Not working is not an option for Hiba’s family, who squat in a house with no electricity or gas and receive little outside help. Their uncle works for a motorcycle garage and helps them with money when he can, but has his own family to feed.
“Our house isn’t suitable for children, but where else can we go.”
Despite of the situation, it doesn’t stop the girls and their parents from dreaming of a better the future. The family hopes peace will come back to Syria so they can return home and their children can once again be able to go back to school and achieve their dream for two of their daughters to become doctors and the other two to be pharmacists.