How I lost my appetite for watermelons in a refugee camp

Watermelons make me happy. On a hot summer day, what can be more delicious than putting your teeth in a fresh, juicy piece of watermelon? Its sweet taste used to remind me of hot days on the beach, free, and without worries. But after visiting the unofficial refugee camps in the Adana region in Turkey, the watermelon associated me with something else. A feeling of discomfort, as if the delicious watermelon suddenly lost its taste.     

Every day, trucks drive in and out to transport refugees from the camps to the watermelon fields. Starting at the age of 12, children work on the land from morning until evening, picking fruits in the heating sun. Child slavery, if you’d ask me, letting young children do heavy physical work in the fields.

It is not just children working on the land, but Syrians of all ages. Their salary is around 40 Turkish Lyra (10 euros) a day, paid out in credits that can only be used at the land owner’s shops. He sells basic foodstuffs for three or four times the regular supermarket price. As the workers are unregistered refugees, this is the only work available for them. Without registration, they have no basic rights, such as education and health care. Without registration, they are nothing.  

These people did not choose to be here. They escaped a brutal war, leaving behind their homes and all their possessions. Now they are forced to live in improvised tent camps, such as these in the Adana region. They have set up camps along the road, in open fields, or in abandoned chicken farms.

Many of them are low-educated village-people, having no money to go elsewhere. They spend their days on the dirty campsites, or picking watermelons in the fields.  What kind of future do their children have? What will become of this generation, if they do not have the fundamental human right of education? Who is there for these people, to stand up for their rights? How long will this continue? 

My favorite fruit, children pick them here in the heating sun. However sweet and juicy their taste, on the field they are big and heavy. Those watermelons have lost their innocence. Never have they tasted so bitter before.

 

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Pictures by Rosie Lyse Thompson
Picture 1: girl in a makeshift camp outside Adana

Picture 2: Syrian woman returning home after a long shift on the farm