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Turkey – A Year Since Soma Mine Disaster – Safety Concerns Continue

Graves for miners killed in the Soma blastOn the first anniversary of Turkey’s biggest mining disaster in which 301 people lost their lives, those who survived the disaster — most of whom were laid off by the mining company in the aftermath of the disaster — still anxiously wait for the wounds to be healed.

No promises made by the government after the mining disaster have been carried out, a grieved father who lost his son, Uğur Çolak, in the mine told Today’s Zaman on Tuesday.

Noting that the only thing that has not changed since the disaster in Soma is the suffering of the victims’ families, İsmail Çolak said, “They [the government] almost promised the moon in the days that followed that incident [but] 15 days later, no officials were left in Soma.”

On May 13, 2014, Turkey was shocked by news of an explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, a town in the western province of Manisa. The fire rapidly depleted the oxygen in the mineshaft, causing 301 trapped mineworkers to die of carbon monoxide poisoning. A total of 162 others were injured in the blast.

İsmail Çolak, who said their suffering is as fresh as the day the disaster happened, sees the state as responsible for having failed to ensure that all necessary safety measures had been taken in the mine.

Unemployment major concern

A year after the disaster, which turned out to be the result of a serious neglect of safety measures on the part of the company running the mine, what people fear most in Soma is being unemployed.

Only around 300 out of the 2,831 miners were reemployed by the Soma Coal Mining Inc., the company in charge of the coal mine where the disaster happened.

Among those laid off by the company, around 1,000 miners are believed to have left town in search of jobs elsewhere and in June, workers who lost their jobs after the accident will receive their last unemployment check.
A significant portion of the miners that survived the disaster now work in traditional coffee houses (kahvehane) or construction.

Those who speak out do so only on the condition of anonymity as they fear not being employed if they speak to the press as working in a mine is, despite the risks involved, still the best source of livelihood for many in the region.

Since last year’s tragic accident, mining companies in Soma do not employ those who take part in demonstrations or speak to the press to seek their rights, a report in the Meydan daily said on Tuesday.

According to the report, which is based on the comments of several miners, a list of those who will not be employed has been prepared by the mining companies.

A miner who survived the incident is, like many, concerned about how he will earn a living for his family after he receives his last unemployment check next month.

“I do not know how I will take care of my family a month later,” the daily quoted the miner, who reportedly spoke to the daily on the condition of anonymity, as saying.

He needs to work for another six months to retire, but has been so far unsuccessful in obtaining employment.

“We have not been paid any compensation. When I attempted to get compensation for what I went through in the mine, they [company officials] asked for a report of the accident,” he told the daily, adding, “We cannot go after our rights, because many colleagues were denied employment because they took part in protests or spoke to the press.”

No measures in place against risks in mine

Moreover, no major steps have yet been taken to eliminate safety deficiencies in the coal mines in Soma and miners who currently work in other coal mines complain that they continue working under serious risk to their lives.

There are indications that the coal in the mine is burning from within, another miner who also spoke on condition of anonymity and works in one of the mines run by the Soma Mining Company told the Birgün daily on Tuesday.

According to the miner, some mines are currently overcrowded and pose a significant safety risk in the event of an emergency.

Noting that a total of nearly 6,000 laborers used to work in three mines belonging to the Soma Mining Company, the miner told Birgün: “Today there are 7,000 workers [in mines]. There are 1,500 people in each shift; there is no place to swing a cat in the mine. We are well over our capacity. In the slightest danger, we would run over each other [to get out].”

Warning that a fire could break out in some places in the mine as safety measures are not being taken as per regulations, he said that if a disaster happens in the mine he is working in it would be three times deadlier than last year’s disaster in Soma — 432 children found themselves fatherless because of the disaster.

The ministers responsible for the mining industry and workplace safety, Energy Minister Taner Yıldız and Labor and Social Security Minister Faruk Çelik, have been heavily criticized for failing to ensure the proper level of supervision for workplace safety at the Soma mine. Neither minister resigned following the disaster.

A total of 45 officials from the Soma Mining Company are being tried on charges that include first-degree murder and homicide through conscious negligence.

In the trial which only began last month, the leading suspects in the case have tried to put the blame on a safety specialist who also died in the tragic incident, pleading not guilty.

Eight of the leading suspects are in pre-trial detention and following hearings that lasted about a week in April, the court put off the trial to mid-June.

Prosecutors leveled charges of first-degree murder against company CEO Can Gürkan and seven other senior company officials, while prison terms of between 32 months and 20 years are being sought for eight other company employees on charges of homicide through conscious negligence.

The tragic incident will be commemorated on its anniversary on Wednesday in Soma. No officials from the government are expected to attend the ceremony.

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