Agri's exodus: The new wave of Turkish migration to the west
By Senol Bali
Agri, recognized as one of the most impoverished cities in Turkey, has a long history of emigration. Recently, Canada and America have emerged as the leading destinations for its youth. It's estimated that around 50,000 young people leave the city every year. Mehmet Akbas, an Agri native who emigrated to Canada and the current president of the Agri Entrepreneurial Industrialist Businessmen's Association, discussed the reasons and implications of this migration trend with Artı Gerçek.
Traditionally, emigrants from Agri went to Western metropolises, but the younger generation now prefers destinations such as Canada and America. Most of these young migrants, despite complex and sometimes illegal circumstances, end up working mainly in the construction and service sectors.
A complex web: Smugglers, debt, and front companies
The dream of going overseas dominates the city's discourse. Almost everyone over the age of 18 wants to leave. Emigration has become both a custom and a booming industry. Families often sell assets such as land and livestock to raise between $10,000 and $15,000 for the trip. Those who lack the funds resort to borrowing from unscrupulous lenders. Once at their destination, the primary goal of these young people is to repay their debts, and it's rumored that proxy companies facilitate this repayment process.
Nearly 50,000 young people are estimated to have left Agri, equivalent to entire districts such as Hamur or Tutak. The departure is so profound that some villages reportedly have no youth left, leaving Agri increasingly desolate.
The primary motivation for these young people is the bleak economic outlook and uncertainty about the future of Agri. Stories of relatives or friends who migrated earlier also influence their decisions. As a result, many left for Europe and America.
The road to Canada
Ali, a 32-year-old construction worker, told his migration story. After working in Izmir, he moved to Canada, making the arduous journey through Mexico, partly by land and sea. He entered Canada illegally, turned himself into Canadian authorities, and spent a week in a detention center before being released. He stresses the need to legalize his status to avoid possible deportation.
Ali has found employment in a restaurant in Canada, working 12-hour shifts and earning between $200 and $400 a week. This income is used primarily to pay off his migration debt. While many of Agri's peers choose Canada for its relatively relaxed residency procedures, some opt for America, attracted by the promise of eventual green card eligibility.
Ali mentioned the challenges of integrating into Canadian society, highlighting language barriers and the longing for family left behind in Turkey.
Agri: A fading city
Mehmet Akbas painted a bleak picture of the economic state of Agri, highlighting the lack of optimism among its youth. The city's economy is suffocating, reflecting the country's overall development. When primary institutions such as the constitution, economy, and justice system are unhealthy, residents naturally look for alternatives. Agri's desolation has deepened, so every graduating student automatically thinks of leaving. While some hope that emigrants will send money back, the reality is that most invest in their new countries.
Highlighting the city's struggles, Akbas pointed to Agri's position as one of Turkey's poorest regions. With a declining population, Agri also has the lowest per capita income in the country. Its economy, traditionally based on agriculture and livestock, rapidly shifts to the service sector. Resources like geothermal energy remain underutilized, and potential areas such as winter tourism see minimal investment.
Regarding overall development, Agri ranks 80th in a survey by the Ministry of Development. While notable, recent investment in the city is insufficient to address its extensive challenges.
*Name changed for privacy.