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EU looks to boost Syrian businesses in Turkey

Many Syrian refugees are working in Turkey without work permits, and the European Union is trying to support their small businesses.
Turkish and Syrian students prepare food in a kitchen,. as part of the "Mutfakta Umut Var - Hope in the Kitchen" project attended by Turkish and Syrian youths, Ankara, Turkey, Oct. 8, 2020.

In coordination with the Directorate General of Development Agencies at the Turkish Ministry of Industry and Technology, the European Union announced Oct. 5 in the city of Urfa the launch of the ENHANCER project, developed by the International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD).

The project will award a grant of up to 30,000 euros (about $35,000) for Syrian businessmen in Turkey whose status is Under Temporary Protection

The grant will be awarded to Syrian businessmen in the cities of Urfa, Konya, Kayseri, Istanbul, Izmir, Bursa, Mersin, Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay and Ankara.

Mehmet Caglar Aydin, head of the Grants Management Team at the ICMPD, said at the launching conference in Urfa, which was attended by representatives of relevant institutions and organizations, “The project aims at increasing support for small entrepreneurs and encouraging entrepreneurship. The project also seeks to ensure economic harmony between the Turkish and Syrian peoples, as its participants will be able to implement their projects for a period of up to 12 months through a 10% margin of cofinancing and a 90% margin of grants. Applications will be accepted until Oct. 29 and are to expire in 2023, and they will be evaluated by independent examiners.”

Ahmed Haji Osman, owner of Technosat for programming and communications services in Gaziantep, who applied for the grant, told Al-Monitor, “I started my company two years ago, months before the outbreak of the coronavirus and the ensuing lockdown, and the economic crisis that Turkey is suffering from, which contributed to additional difficulties for Syrian companies. I have six employees and I have to cover their health insurance and monthly salaries, but this is currently impossible due to the bad economic conditions. If my application is accepted, then the EU will be able to cover the expenses of the team and expand the company’s competencies.”

The number of companies owned by Syrians in Turkey amounts to about 13,880, i.e., 29% of the total foreign-owned companies in the country, with a capital of about 4 billion Turkish liras ($433.7 million). Most of these companies work in the fields of construction, international wholesale trade, foodstuffs, real estate, rental and the garment industry. The total capital of foreign companies in Turkey is estimated at about 151 billion Turkish liras ($16.3 billion), according to the Turkish Trade Ministry.

These companies have provided job opportunities for about 44,000 Syrians in Turkey. According to a report by the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, if one family consists of six members on average, then employing 44,000 people would be equivalent to meeting the needs of nearly 250,000 Syrians, or 7% of the 3.5 million Syrians in Turkey. 

According to the same report, 22% of Syrian companies are located in the southern and southeastern states bordering the Syrian border; 55.4% of Syrian companies focus their sales on foreign markets, as they export their products. The Syrians’ contribution to the Turkish economy is estimated at more than half a billion dollars, not to mention the job opportunities they provide for Turkish and Syrian workers.

Galal Bakkar, an economic adviser and director of Ecolink Investment Company in Turkey, told Al-Monitor, “EU projects in Turkey aim to support Syrians alone. However, Turkey would not allow the implementation of such projects without earmarking a portion of this support for Turkish companies. On the other hand, the EU requires Turkish companies to hire Syrians in order to obtain the support provided.”

He said, “Through these projects, the EU is looking to put an end to the illegal migration of Syrians toward Europe. The Turkish media outlets should tackle such projects and inform the Turkish people that the support Syrians get is provided by the EU and not Turkey in order to mitigate racist practices in Turkey.”

Abdel Hakeem al-Masry, minister of economy in the Syrian opposition's self-styled interim government, told Al-Monitor, “These projects are not all aimed at supporting Syrians, and if they were, they would have been implemented in Syria instead of Turkey. Also, this grant is for existing projects, which means that it helps people who are already well established. The priority should be focused on workers wishing to start new businesses, as this would contribute to increasing projects and manpower and creating new job opportunities.”

He added, “These projects do not help integrate Syrians into Turkish society because each project will be independent. If the grant stipulated that the applicant be a Syrian-Turkish company, it would have contributed to the elimination of racism against Syrians.”

Around 4 million Syrian refugees currently live in Turkey Under Temporary Protection, and many of them work illegally in Turkish factories while the EU tries to support small businesses established by Syrian refugees.

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