Syr­ian en­trepreneurs get to work in Turkey

Viet Nam News - - INSIGHT - Luana Sarmini-Buonac­corsi

Thou­sands of busi­nesses have been es­tab­lished by refugees flee­ing neigh­bour­ing war zones, help­ing new­com­ers build new lives and ben­e­fit­ting their host coun­try

GAZIANTEP, Turkey — In the Turk­ish city of Gaziantep, home to around half a mil­lion Syr­i­ans who fled the civil war south of the border, hun­dreds of Syr­ian busi­nesses are thriv­ing in a boost both for the dis­placed com­mu­nity and their host coun­try.

Over 3.5 mil­lion Syr­i­ans are regis­tered in Turkey, far more than in any other coun­try that has wel­comed refugees of the seven-year war.

Turk­ish of­fi­cials high­light the ma­jor eco­nomic bur­den of host­ing so many refugees but the pres­ence of this new pop­u­la­tion – many well-qual­i­fied and mul­ti­lin­gual – and the suc­cess of their busi­nesses have also been a fil­lip for the Turk­ish econ­omy, con­trary to widely-held as­sump­tions.

More than 6,500 com­pa­nies founded or co-founded by Syr­i­ans have been regis­tered in Turkey since the 2011 start of the war, ac­cord­ing to the Union of Cham­bers and Com­mod­ity Ex­changes of Turkey.

And the Syr­ian Eco­nomic Fo­rum (SEF), an or­gan­i­sa­tion which aims to de­velop en­trepreneur­ship among the Syr­ian di­as­pora, es­ti­mates the num­ber in fact to be over 10,000 when the in­for­mal sec­tor is in­cluded.

In Gaziantep alone, 1,250 Syr­ian com­pa­nies are regis­tered with the Gaziantep Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try, said Rami Shar­rack, deputy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at SEF.

‘Ex­port world­wide’

In a large com­plex in Gaziantep’s in­dus­trial zone, Syr­ian busi­ness­man Amer Hadri, head of prominent crisp and snack pack­ag­ing com­pany Zirve Ex­tru­sion, has suc­ceeded in re­sum­ing his busi­ness, once based in the war-rav­aged city of Aleppo, just 125km south of the Turk­ish city.

“We have been pro­duc­ing ma­chines for man­u­fac­tur­ing and pack­ag­ing crisps for over 20 years,” Hadri said.

“Be­fore we ex­ported to the Arab world but since we set up in Turkey, we have re­alised our am­bi­tion to ex­port to the whole world,” he added.

All the pack­ag­ing has a “Pro­duced in Turkey” la­bel, which Hadri said was a “guar­an­tee of qual­ity” on the Euro­pean mar­kets.

Like Hadri, many Syr­i­ans arrived in Turkey with their ex­pe­ri­ence and cus­tomer base.

While some tar­get in­creased ex­ports and ac­cess to in­ter­na­tional mar­kets, other en­trepreneurs have more lo­cal am­bi­tions.

Dania Ab­dul­baqi, a civil en­gi­neer who came to Turkey from Hama in 2013, opened a creche in Au­gust 2016 for chil­dren of all na­tion­al­i­ties be­tween three months and five years old af­ter not be­ing able to find one in the area.

“Moth­ers who work in this dis­trict are near their chil­dren and can come and breast­feed them dur­ing their breaks.”

For this project, Ab­dul­baqi at­tended man­age­ment train­ing cour­ses with NGOs in Gaziantep, and her hus­band raised funds from rel­a­tives to fi­nance it.

Stim­u­lat­ing growth

“The mas­sive in­flux has stim­u­lated growth and at­tracted new in­vest­ment by pro­vid­ing cheap labour and boost­ing con­sump­tion,” the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group said in a re­port this year.

It added that some ex­perts be­lieve the pres­ence of Syr­i­ans added about three per cent to Turk­ish eco­nomic growth in 2016.

Fatma Sahin, mayor of Gaziantep and prominent mem­ber of Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan’s rul­ing party, said she wel­comed the op­por­tu­ni­ties of­fered by joint ven­tures be­tween Turk­ish and Syr­ian en­trepreneurs.

“Peo­ple from Gaziantep and Syr­i­ans have started busi­nesses to­gether be­cause the fact that they speak two lan­guages, in­clud­ing English and Ara­bic, is an im­por­tant ad­van­tage, es­pe­cially for in­ter­na­tional trade,” she said.

The econ­omy has gen­er­ally been a trump card for Er­do­gan in his 15 years in power. But, with both un­em­ploy­ment and in­fla­tion at over 10 per cent, there are fears about the econ­omy’s un­der­ly­ing health.

Mustafa Turk­menoglu, a Turk­men Syr­ian orig­i­nally from Aleppo, left Syria five years ago and cre­ated a tex­tile com­pany in Gaziantep.

“All the traders here re­ceive dol­lars from abroad,” he said. “We ben­e­fit from it but oth­ers too.”

Turk­menoglu em­ploys 40 Syr­i­ans in his work­shop, and five in his shop. He said Turks seek higher wages and are more de­mand­ing re­gard­ing in­sur­ance.

The gov­ern­ment even re­laxed rules to make it eas­ier for Syr­i­ans to open busi­nesses although in the face of ten­sions over favourable treat­ment, Ankara agreed to im­pose the same con­di­tions for all.

But in the case of Syr­ian busi­nesses, au­thor­i­ties seem to have, for now, put “on hold” a rule that a com­pany should em­ploy five Turks for ev­ery for­eigner, Omar Kad­koy, re­search as­so­ciate at Ankara-based TEPAV think tank said.

‘Aid won’t last for­ever’

Yet ma­jor prob­lems re­main, many linked to the long-term issues of how – and whether – to fully in­te­grate such a large refugee com­mu­nity into Turk­ish life.

Although Ankara al­lowed work per­mits to be is­sued to Syr­ian refugees in Jan­uary 2016, less than one per cent have one at present, even though two thirds of the refugees are of work­ing age, said Kad­koy.

He added an­other ob­sta­cle was that a large part of the Syr­ian refugee pop­u­la­tion did not know Turk­ish – which be­longs to an en­tirely dif­fer­ent lan­guage fam­ily to Ara­bic – and there is no ac­tive pol­icy to teach them.

Syr­i­ans also fear los­ing their ac­cess to aid, for which as refugees they qual­ify, if they en­ter the for­mal labour mar­ket, Kad­koy said.

“They fig­ure if they get for­mal em­ploy­ment they will be cut off from aid, which is true, (but) the is­sue there is the aid will cer­tainly not last for­ever.

“The sooner they get a job, the bet­ter it is to sus­tain an in­come in the long term,” he said.— AFP

Hun­dreds of Syr­ian busi­nesses are thriv­ing in the Turk­ish city of Gaziantep, which hosts around half a mil­lion Syr­i­ans who have fled the civil war.—AFP/VNA Photo

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