Nacibullah’s problems without papers and legal status in Istanbul

Nacibullah came to Turkey from Afghanistan as a 16-year-old in 2018 without his family. In this interview excerpt, he describes the problems he faces as a result of being in Turkey without papers and residence status: This concerns finding housing, exploitative employment and freedom of movement in the country, but also other forms of discrimination.

Nacibullah in Istanbul. Privat Picture.

I have been living in Istanbul for about 1–1.5 years. At first, we suffered a lot; I couldn’t find a job. We used to go and ask for job and then we were working 2 or 3 days or maybe 4 days, but then we were asked to quit. It was extremely difficult. Another issue was that we couldn’t find a flat to rent. The fact that we came here through illegal ways had consequence that we don’t have any paper such as passport, visa or residence permit. The landlords didn’t want to rent their flats to us since we didn’t have papers. Then, over the time, little by little we discovered neighborhoods with the help of Turkish friends. And now we survive.

We didn’t apply for registration and we don’t have permit to stay. Residence permit requires a lot of money and I don’t have that much money. On the other hand, going to other cities are not suitable option because without passport or paper, bus companies don’t provide you ticket. And by private car for transportation, it costs a lot. I can’t go. […]

Actually, apart from what I faced with finding a flat; when I first arrived to Istanbul, we couldn’t find a right employer who could pay me as promised. Randomly I worked in one place and then he didn’t pay us. We worked overtime even, it happened that they didn’t pay our overtime efforts.

[…] Sometimes it happens that I feel like a stranger in my workplace, while living in Istanbul. For instance, there are Turkish friends doing same job as we do at work but they are treated differently. We are treated differently. Sometimes it happens but I get over it anyways. I think I got used to such different treatments ever since I came here. […] For instance, we take our tea breaks as well the Turkish friends at work. But when we take our teabreak, we are treated differently just because we don’t have our residence permit and Turkish friends are treated differently at their teabreaks. Another example; when the work hours are over, Turkish people quit work and get back to their homes. But, this is not the case for us. […] We are paid less than Turkish friends.

[…] one day when we were at work, some friends came. There were among them unfamiliar faces; friends of friends. They told towards us: “Look at these! They came here and stole our jobs. And we can’t find job to work. ” After understanding what they said, I was extremely sad and I thought: “If only there hadn’t been war in my country of origin. Then, I would of course be in my country and work. ” No matter more or less, I would stay in my country to work if it wasn’t war.

[…] I am here to support financially my family in Afghanistan. I faced a lot of difficulties: discrimination, not being paid but I moved along and accepted it and I stayed here though. I bear it all because it is enough for me to support my family.

Nacibullah left Afghanistan as a 16-year-old in 2018 without his family due to existential economic hardship and the war. After living in Konya for a short time, he decided to live in Istanbul because of the numerous job opportunities. In the meantime, Nacibullah, like many other Afghan and other migrants in Turkey, works in an irregular job with physically hard work, low pay and discrimination against non-Turkish employees, in his case in the car industry. The fact that he came to Turkey irregularly and lives there without papers and residence status leads not only to a precarious employment situation, but also to difficulties in finding housing, no protection against discrimination and restrictions on Nacibullah’s freedom of movement. Like Nacibullah, many other forced migrants from Afghanistan lead a precarious, shadowy existence in Istanbul. They often remain out of sight of civil society and organisational support structures, partly because of the fear of deportation or other legal problems due to their irregular stay. 11About the situation of Afghans in Istanbul, see e. g. GAR, 2021: Ghosts of Istanbul. Afghans at the Margins of Society. (22.07.2021).

For many forced migrants in Turkey, it is difficult to register and thus, for example, to get a work permit despite the theoretically existing legal framework. Esin B., a lawyer, spoke about this in an interview with the We Refugees Archive.




  • 1About the situation of Afghans in Istanbul, see e. g. GAR, 2021: Ghosts of Istanbul. Afghans at the Margins of Society. (22.07.2021).

This interview was conducted by Elif Yenigun for the We Refugees Archive in April 2021. It took place online, in Farsi and Turkish.

Translation into English: Elif Yenigun

Translation from English to German © Minor