A Syrian fruit and vegetable seller in Gaziantep, Turkey, May 1, 2018
In the Turkish city of Gaziantep, a hundred kilometers from Aleppo, Syrians discuss business and markets to conquer. Their success in business breaks the stereotype of a refugee living with aid after fleeing conflict in his country.
More than 3.5 million Syrian refugees are registered in Turkey, including nearly 500,000 in Gaziantep. While most benefit from humanitarian aid provided by Ankara and international donors, many of them work.
They arrived in Turkey with their experience and their clientele. Some have (re) started their own business, to rebuild their lives or carry on their business before the war that has been raging in Syria since 2011.
More than 6,500 companies created or co-founded by Syrians have been registered on Turkish soil since 2011, according to the Union of Chambers of Commerce and Stock Exchanges of Turkey. Counting the informal sector, they are actually more than 10,000, says the Syrian Economic Forum (SEF), dedicated to the development of entrepreneurship in the Syrian diaspora.
In a large warehouse located in the Gaziantep industrial zone, Amer Hadri took over the industrial activity he had in Aleppo: “We have been producing machines to manufacture and package crisps for more than 20 years,” he explains. to AFP.
The Syrian Amer Hadri produces machines to manufacture and pack chips in Gaziantep, Turkey, where he is a refugee. Photo taken on May 2, 2018
“Before, we exported to the Arab world but since we moved to Turkey, we realized our ambition to export to the world,” he says, in his office of his company Zirve , where are enthroned packets of chips of all shapes.
On the packaging of crisps, the mention “Product in Turkey”, a “pledge of quality” for the European markets, according to Mr. Hadri.
Rami Sharrack, deputy executive director of SEF, confirms this export trend: “In Gaziantep – but it is applicable to all Turkey – more than 95% of what the Syrians produce is for export.”
– International advantages –
More than 1,250 Syrian companies are registered with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Gaziantep, a city conveniently located near Syria, where many products made in Turkey land.
On a street in Gaziantep, Turkey, May 1, 2018
Syrians contribute to the Turkish economy, he says. They made it grow by 3% in 2016, according to experts quoted in a report by the International Crisis Group of January 2018.
The Turkish authorities are encouraging Syrians to get into business, even allowing them to open businesses for a while without having to register them, Sharrack says. This is “particularly” true for “smaller” businesses, “like grocery stores,” says Omar Kadkoy, associate researcher at the TEPAV research center in Ankara.
Mustafa Türkmenoglu, a Turkmen from Aleppo who left Syria 5 years ago, set up a textile company in Gaziantep. “All traders have dollar earnings from abroad,” he says. “We benefit from it, but others too.”
Gaziantep Mayor Fatma Sahin in her office on May 2, 2018
Fatma Sahin, Mayor of Gaziantep, congratulates AFP on the collaboration between Turkish and Syrian entrepreneurs: “The fact that they (Syrians) speak two languages in particular, English and Arabic, is a important advantage, especially for international trade, “she told AFP.
– Suspended rules –
In addition to these large export-oriented companies, some entrepreneurs have more local ambitions.
Dania Abdulbaqi, an engineer from Hama in Syria in 2013, opened a nursery in 2016, welcoming children of various nationalities, from 3 months to 5 years old.
“There was a need, there was no nursery in this business district”, where working mothers are now “close to their children and can go see them or breastfeed during their breaks”, explains she.
For this project, Ms. Abdulbaqi attended management training courses with NGOs in Gaziantep. Her husband raised money from relatives to finance it.
The Syrian Dania Abdulbaqi, engineer, in the nursery she opened in Turkey, May 2, 2018
In theory, for every work permit issued to a foreign founder or co-founder of a company in Turkey, it must recruit at least five Turks. And “no law says that Syrians are exempt from this rule, but for now, it seems suspended” in their case, says researcher Omar Kadkoy.
Mr. Turkmenoglu, who employs 40 Syrians in his workshop and 5 in his shop, explains that the Turks demand higher wages and are more demanding in terms of insurance.
Moreover, despite the issuance since January 2016 of work permits for Syrian refugees, less than 1% of them are staffed today, while two thirds are of working age, according to Mr. Kadkoy, himself even Syrian. Asked by AFP, several Syrian employees working without a license implicate administrative difficulties. But Kadkoy also underlines the fear of losing social benefits if they officially enter the labor market.
“It’s true they’ll lose them, but welfare will not last forever,” warns Kadkoy. “The sooner they get a formal job, the better it will be to guarantee them a long-term income.”