Bodies of migrants and refugees who died in workplace accidents in Turkey have been dumped in rural areas, by roadsides or in city dumpsters instead of being properly buried or sent back to their home countries, the Bianet news website reported.
Occupational health and safety expert Zafer Güney, who worked as a court expert, said some employers dumped the bodies of their workers in places far from the workplace to cover up accidents.
“Many migrants are not insured and work in unregistered jobs,” said Güney. “For employers in such workplaces, migrants are disposable. Their only concern is to increase their profits by reducing costs. Therefore, ensuring a safe work environment is not their priority.”
According to Güney, employers got rid of the bodies before an investigation could take place to determine the cause of the accident. Other workers were too afraid to report the accident, fearing they would be deported.
Güney said the Social Security Institution (SGK) also failed to fulfil their obligations in monitoring workplaces that exploited their workers. “Employers are not held accountable for workplace accidents and cover-ups because the institutions that are supposed to protect vulnerable workers are not doing their jobs properly,” he said.
Burcu Çınar, from the Migrant Union Initiative, said it was expensive to send the bodies of migrants who had died in workplace accidents back to their families. “The state has no mechanism to ensure the bodies are returned, and it’s very expensive for families to pay for it themselves. Imagine an Afghan refugee has died in Turkey, how will their family know about it? Even if they do know, how will they pay for the body’s transportation?” Çınar said.
Çınar said activists tried to reach families if they were informed of a migrant worker’s death but that it was often very difficult to hold employers accountable. In one case, an Afghan refugee suffered a fall at a construction site. He died in the hospital, and activists tried to reach his family. In the meantime, the hospital asked for the body to be collected. Although activists tried to reach the employer so he could take care of the formalities, he was unreachable. They later found out the employer had closed the construction site and fled. Unfortunately, the police did not pursuit the case.
The activists crowd-funded the expenses so the body was eventually sent back to Afghanistan.
Taha Algazi, founder of the Refugee Rights Platform, said it was incredibly difficult to identify migrants who had died in workplace accidents because they were often unregistered. “Most often, unidentified workers are buried in unmarked graves,” he said. “Of course, these are the ones who are not left in dumpsters.”
Turkey hosts the world’s largest number of refugees, 3.7 million from Syria granted temporary protection status, and over 400,000 refugees and migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries.
However, human rights activists and union workers have often said migrant workers in Turkey are being exploited by their employers. They are not able to obtain work permits or unionize.
Activists said the government caused this exploitation by not developing effective policies that would grant migrants rights equal to those of local workers.
Migrants have been continuously blamed for rising unemployment and the economic crisis in Turkey. However, they have repeatedly expressed to the media that although they have been living in Turkey for years, they feel socially alienated and economically disadvantaged.
Most Syrians are seen as cheap labor as they work for 50 percent lower wages than Turkish nationals, and employers rarely provide insurance benefits for their Syrian workers.