02/02/2021, 13.12
TURKEY
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Vicar of Anatolia: poverty and Covid, solidarity among Christians and Muslims is growing

At least 17 million out of 81 million citizens live below the poverty line. The actual unemployment rate has reached 40%. The pandemic has had a negative impact on the economy, but it has fuelled solidarity. Iraqi refugees are among the hardest hit. Difficulties “must not stifle generosity".

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - In Turkey, as in all nations affected by Covid-19, "there have been negative repercussions in terms of the economy and employment", but "what matters most is that the pandemic is not suffocating solidarity, rather it must fuel it” even between Christians and Muslims, says Msgr. Paolo Bizzeti, apostolic vicar of Anatolia. Bizzeti – who is also president of Caritas Turkey - was infected with Covid-19 but is now on the road to a full recovery.

"Here the virus has affected less than elsewhere in terms of human lives, perhaps given the demographically young population and prolonged lockdowns - adds the prelate - but many who survived thanks to daily or occasional jobs, or tourism have suffered heavy repercussions”.

Activists, NGOs and aid agencies speak of a substantial increase in the poor in Turkey, also and above all linked to the new coronavirus pandemic which has had an even more negative impact on the weakest sectors of society.

On the streets and outside grocery stores and supermarkets, it is increasingly common to observe people waiting for discarded fruit and vegetables because they are unsuitable for sale or mothers who no longer have milk to give to their children because they are also malnourished.

Already in 2018 the country was going through a period of economic crisis, which the new coronavirus has amplified. According to a 2019 survey by the Turkish Statistical Institute, out of a total of 81 million citizens at least 17 million live below the poverty line. Data for 2020 are not yet available, but the trend speaks of a further deterioration and the situation becomes even more complicated if immigrants and foreign workers are taken into account.

The official unemployment figure is around 13% in times of pandemic. In reality, if we take into consideration the fluctuations of the market and the demands of those seeking employment, the figure of those without a stable and effective job is about 10 million, equal to 40% of the total workforce. This too, experts warn, is a sign that confirms the worsening of the economy and a general and increasingly marked increase in poverty.

"In the last month - underlines Msgr. Bizzeti - the Turkish lira has regained about 10% of its value, but on the other hand there are still negative signs such as rising unemployment. Among the most affected are refugees, in particular those from Iraq, who cannot have a job under law and must live by expedients and the help of humanitarian organizations, including Caritas."

At a time of pandemic and economic crisis, continues the apostolic vicar, there are however positive signs of a "renewed solidarity, as Pope Francis often says who affirms that difficulties can only be overcome together".

“Here in the south, in Iskenderun - he says - we at Caritas have reached an agreement with the head of the district and every 15 days we give food parcels to the families of the area, who are overwhelmingly Muslim. The action of Caritas has expanded, compared to the traditional borders of Christian refugees or the poor who refer to the ecclesial circuit".

The government and the authorities “do a lot”, but it is equally true “that you can't get everywhere when the needs are so great. It is important for us to be able to make a contribution in such a dramatic situation, because the pandemic has not only affected from a health point of view, but also from an economic and social point of view”.

"I myself was hit by Covid and in the last two months I have not been able to go out much, but I have seen an increase in people begging, although here the poor behave with great dignity and not in dramatic terms".

One of the problems, concludes Msgr. Bizzeti, is that "foreign aid has decreased, including from Italy. We depend on this aid, and even if generosity remains abundant it cannot be said to be taken for granted. The hope is that these economic difficulties will not stifle the impulse to generosity".

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