The Hatay province in southern Turkey used to be known as a highly developed and lucrative international land-transportation hub. But the Syrian crisis has created major problems for Turkey’s international-transport sector, a source of employment and income for many families. Syria serves as Turkey’s economic gateway to the rest of the Middle East. As the crisis there continues, idle trucks fill Hatay’s parking lots.
At Cilvegozu, a strategic border point between Syria and Turkey, crossings have decreased by 80-90%. Now, only 200 to 300 trucks cross this checkpoint each day.
Truck drivers avoid talking about the Syrian issue. They are concerned for their personal security, since they know that they will have to return to Syria again. The drivers do talk about how Syrian officials conduct tiresome security inspections of their trucks, and they say that their trucks are sometimes damaged if they happen upon clashes between the opposition and regime forces.
Mehmet Sanverdi, co-owner of a transportation company based in Reyhanli, said that before the clashes erupted in Syria, more than 100 trucks per month were loaded for transportation. Now, they only load about 20.
“Our drivers are in danger. We are transporting food items, which are perishable goods, and each truck is loaded with $60,000 to $70,000 worth of goods. We cannot find drivers; nobody is willing to go because of the safety risks. There are plenty of transportation companies whose trucks are loaded with goods, just waiting for drivers in parking lots. Drivers used to charge around $300 per trip, but this has gone up to $1500. Drivers are scared, and only the desperate ones agree to drive through Syria. After the latest incidents, mostly trucks with foreign plates cross the Syrian border.”
Sanverdi said that some of his drivers have been assaulted in Syria for no reason. “Since the only route for Turkish companies to reach Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Dubai and Bahrain is through Syria, we have a major problem. The prices involved in transportation have gone from $4500 to $6000, so we cannot make any profit,” he explained.
Due to the risks of transporting goods through Syria, some companies have been trying to go through Iraq. A ro-ro (“roll on/roll off”) ferry connection through Egypt was introduced as an alternative to the Syrian route. Sanverdi welcomes the initiative, but still finds it problematic: “It is expensive to transport goods on a ro-ro ferry, so this is not an ideal option for transporters. We are undoubtedly looking forward to the end of the Syrian crisis. This trade route is also very important for Syrians. They make a lot of money from the trade taking place along this route.”