EXCLUSIVE - : Inside the Turkish sweatshop where children as young as nine work 12 hours a day stitching combat gear used in battle by Islamic State
- Syrian refugee children forced to work in a military uniform sweatshop that sells camouflage to ISIS
- Unable to go to school and desperate for money on the Turkish border the boys work 12 hour days for £10
- Factory owner Abu Zakour has no problem selling uniforms to ISIS: 'It doesn’t matter where my customers are from'
- He also supplies Al Qaeda group Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other rebel FSA fighters with military garb
Drawing slowly on his cheap cigarettes, 35-year-old Abu Zakour is hardened as he describes how he employs children as young as nine to stitch the uniforms that end up on the backs of frontline ISIS fighters.
The Syrian boys - and a couple of girls hidden upstairs - are paid a minimum of 40 Turkish lira (£10) a day to stitch, cut and measure out the camouflage material and help their older colleagues piece together the uniforms that get smuggled across the border to rebel groups.
‘My kids are in a school run by an NGO,’ he said, speaking exclusively to MailOnline from his office in the Turkish border town of Antakya. ‘These children could go too but their parents want them to earn money, so what can I do?’
Child labour: A young boy at work making uniforms in Turkey that apparently find their way to Isis soldiers. ‘The only reason that these children work with me is for the money - If there were no war in Syria, these children would be in school—and school would be a much better option for them,' factory owner Abu Zakour told MailOnline
So young: About ten children are employed making uniforms being smuggled into Syria to sell to Isisi fighters. They should be in school but their parents send them to work
Precision: The children work twelve hours a day sewing, measuring and cutting the camouflage material to make the military uniforms
Boy tailor: The fabric used at the factory is imported from Istanbul where Turkish textile factories replicate US and Russian camouflage depending on demand, although desert US design is a customer favourite and in high demand
Abu Zakour is a simple businessman – not a revolutionary ideologue or an ISIS sympathiser – but he is also seemingly untroubled by the ethics of kitting out ISIS in camouflage, or by hiring children to do it.
His hulking shape and assertive demeanor marks him as a man not to be messed with. He lived under brutal ISIS rule until he managed to escape Raqqa just six months ago.
Originally from Aleppo, the entrepreneur escaped the incessant shelling of the now destroyed city for the relative safety of Raqqa - the de facto Syrian capital of the terror group.
While the city was ruled by fanatics, it provided an escape from the daily bombardment of President Assad's warplanes - until the US-led coalition ramped up bombings on the ISIS nerve centre.
'I had children working with me in Raqqa too. ISIS wanted children going to Shariah schools, but no one sent their children because there was a lot of bombing.
'The first time I was arrested, it was for cigarettes. They found cigarette butts on the floor but just gave me a warning—the second time, they found the ashtray, jailed me three days and gave me 40 lashes. I was arrested a third time, also for smoking...They made a huge problem for people.
Production line:The Syrian boys - and a couple of girls hidden upstairs - are paid a minimum of 40 Turkish lira (£10) a day to stitch, cut and measure out the camouflage material and help their older colleagues piece together the uniforms that get smuggled across the border to rebel groups
Camouflage: Young boys at work in a shop that makes backpacks, uniforms and other military gear for the Syrian market, and often end up in the hands of Isis
'In the end, I took my things, and I left. We fled,' he says from his office in the 'Halep Garaj' covered market in Antakya. Out front his shop boasts mannequins dressed in camouflage and smart glass cabinets displaying 'adventure kit' - torches, binoculars, pocket knives, gloves and webbing.
Lighting another cigarette he reveals his order sheet and shares his logistical woes of stocking the Syrian rebels with military gear - ISIS are far from his only customers.
‘The main problem for the military clothes are the roads—all of the roads in Syria and from Turkey to Syria are closed.
‘Of course we made far more money with the military clothes than the civilian clothes. There is a big difference between the military clothes and the civilian clothes, but what can we do? Where there is work, there is work.’
From his modest factory in Antakya – which finally shut up shop earlier this year after tightened controls put a stop to smuggling his wares through the border - his workers pay strict attention to the differing stylistic demands of the multitudes of rebel groups in northern Syria.
Lost Generation: The children should be at school, but their parents send them to work in the factory to earn 100 Turkish Lira per week
Terror: Abu Zakour used to run a similar factory in Raqqa, Syria where ISIS pressured his workers to join them for 'benefits'
ISIS encourages children under its rule to attend 'shariah' schools that brainwash pupils into becoming fighters for the terror regime
Manager: Ismail Tara Moussa from Damascus, 40, is the manager of a textile factory that makes backpacks and duffel bags
While Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham prefers their uniforms to be light brown, Al-Qaeda's Syrian wing Jabhat al-Nusra prefers military green, Abu Zakour explains.
‘The Free Syrian Army (FSA) prefers their clothes to be like Ahrar al-Sham…light brown, and ISIS prefers the Afghani clothes style, but sometimes they wear more traditional uniforms,’ he said.
His fabric is imported from Istanbul where Turkish textile factories replicate US and Russian camouflage depending on demand, although desert US design is a customer favourite and in high demand.
‘My customers they want military clothes more than Afghani clothes - there is less of a market for them now, although there are still people asking me for Afghani clothes.
'Almost all the time, my customers want clothes in the style of the US army, but there are also people who want the style of the Russian Army, or the Turkish Army—but almost all of them want it to look like the US army.
‘They bring us a pattern for the US army style, and we copy this pattern directly.’
ISIS have long used different styles of uniform to differentiate between their units – all black for parades, longer shalwar kameez ‘Afghani style’ for the brutal ISIS execution squads and front line fighters and all in varying shades of camouflage, tan and the notorious black.
Demand: ‘My customers they want military clothes more than Afghani clothes - there is less of a market for them now, although there are still people asking me for Afghani clothes', the owner told MailOnline
Products: This graphic shows the different uniforms made by the Turkish sweatshop employing boys as young as nine
Abu Zakour was making military uniforms long before the violence broke out in 2012, but it has fast become his primary business.
And with so many rebel groups demanding different styles and colours of combat gear, his only problem is logistically getting the goods to market.
For years now, there have only been two main border crossings into Syria – Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salameh, but both face closures for trade, aid and (despite Turkey’s insistence on maintaining an ‘open door policy’ for refugees) people.
Bab al-Hawa, just beyond the Turkish border town of Reyhanli that was bombed in May 2013, has faced routine closures and passage has now ground to a halt.
It was beyond this crossing at the traders town of Sarmada – a den of tradesmen selling everything from tomatoes to Turkish sim cards to ammunition and brand new registration plate-less cars.
And here Abu Zakour delivered his packages to shady men from Raqqa.
‘The closing of the border made our job very difficult. Before we had a lot of customers from everywhere. People from Idlib took a lot of things—people from Aleppo took a lot of things. Now the work has stopped, for the past two months.
‘The customers from Raqqa took more of the Afghani clothes, than the customers from Idlib and Aleppo - they took more military clothes.
Abu Zakour said the children working in his factory in Raqqa refused to join ISIS because they were afraid of the bombings and their families did not like ISIS
‘For ISIS, almost all the time they use the Afghani clothes, much more than the US army style. Usually we sell these clothes to the businessmen in Raqqa, if they are coming to our shop. But they do not say they are coming from Raqqa. But a lot of our clothes are getting to Raqqa. So how are they getting there? They are coming in this way.
‘The customers do not say that they are from Raqqa, because they think no one will sell them anything if they say they are from Raqqa, or that they are going back to Raqqa. For me, I will sell the stuff here—it doesn’t matter where my customers are from.
‘This [selling uniforms to people from Raqqa] is not my problem. Of course it is a problem—but I want to sell my clothes, and make a living.'
When MailOnline visited the Antakya factory in February, the boys smiled and chatted as they worked - stitching webbing to carry guns and ammunition, and putting together military backpacks instead of learning how to read and write at school. Even playing in the street is reserved for after their 12 hour day ends.
‘There are people who would rather have their children work for 100 Turkish Lira per week, and see this as better, because they don’t have any money,' said Abu Zakour, who has taken a number of children to work in his new factory 120 miles away in Gaziantep.
‘The only reason that these children work with me is for the money - If there were no war in Syria, these children would be in school—and school would be a much better option for them.
'I pay them 40 to 70 Turkish Lira - it depends on the worker, who is better or who does more. Sometimes the family sends very young children to work, and I don’t like to say no, so I let him work, to benefit from this.
‘Right now they are just working from day to day to survive. But maybe one day one of them will use these skills to learn how to be a tailor, and this is a useful trade. But right now it is just to make a living.’
ISIS have long used different styles of uniform to differentiate between their units – all black for parades, longer shalwar kameez ‘Afghani style’ for the brutal ISIS execution squads and front line fighters and all in varying shades of camouflage, tan and the notorious black
For the estimated 2.7 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, this is an all too familiar reality.
According to UNICEF, almost 80 per cent of Syrian children living in Turkey do not go to school, and almost half of all Syrian children are missing out on an education.
In an investigation into the Syrian access to education in Turkey problem, Human Rights Watch reported that prior to the conflict, the primary school enrollment rate in Syria was 99 percent, and lower secondary school enrollment – grades 7 to 9 – was 82 percent.
Many Syrian children are unable to attend Turkish public schools because of the language barrier and others face bullying that discourages them from enrolling.
But a major problem for thousands of Syrian children is poverty with refugees of any age forbidden from working legally in Turkey.
And for the estimated 2.7 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, it is common for the children to work. According to UNICEF, almost 80 per cent of Syrian children living in Turkey do not go to school
For refugees it is a desperate situation, with kids at least as young as nine working a twelve hour shift that starts at 7.30am with an hour for lunch for a meagre 40 Turkish Lira – 85p an hour
It’s a desperate situation, with kids at least as young as nine working a twelve hour shift that starts at 7.30am with an hour for lunch for a meagre 40 Turkish Lira – 85p an hour.
And worse – some have had to leave their families behind in Antakya to work 120 miles away in Gaziantep, to sleep on the factory floor and in the care of their older colleagues.
‘Before I could take my things from Bab al-Hawa, but now they check everything, and I can no longer do this. When the border was open, a lot of customers were coming from Raqqa—but now it is not like how it was before, because the border is now closed.
‘In Gaziantep, I make civilian clothes for children, jeans, t-shirts, etc. Of course we made far more money with the military clothes than the civilian clothes. There is a big difference between the military clothes and the civilian clothes, but what can we do? Where there is work, there is work.’
‘I pay 40 or 70, it depends on the worker, who is better, who does more. Sometimes the family sends very young children to work, and I don’t like to say no, so I let him work, to benefit from this.’
‘Three of the children from the old factory said they would with us to Gaziantep, and their families said that they would follow us. But the children really didn’t want to go—they stayed behind with their families.
Abu Zakour, who runs the Turkish factory, was making military uniforms long before the violence broke out in 2012, and but it has fast become his primary business
Syrian children have also been reported to be working in Turkish factories that supply high street fashion stores H&M and Next
Despite Turkey providing free health care for Syrians, many struggle to get by and cannot afford to send their children to school
Qusay is a 13 year-old Syrian boy from Aleppo who doesn't attend school but instead is learning to be a barber by working in a local barbershop owned by a Turkish man named Bekir Yildiz
No formal education: Qusay is one of many Syrian refugee children who are working instead of going to school
Child labour: As a young teenager Qusay should be in school but instead he is apprenticed to a barber like so many other refugee children
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3597143/Child-slaves-making-uniforms-Isis-Inside-Turkish-sweatshop-children-young-nine-work-12-hours-day-stitching-combat-gear-used-battle-Islamic-State.html#ixzz4AolYNohb
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