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GİLA BENMAYOR >Economic effect of Syrian refugees in Turkey

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They say they used to smuggle radios from Syria to Turkey. Now, they smuggle archeological artifacts. 

Journalist Arif Arslan’s new book “Yüz Yüze Batman” (Batman, Face to Face) tells the stories of how people smuggled goods from across the Syrian border back in the 1960s. Arslan writes that locals smuggled goods from Syria because they had no other job opportunities. 

An interesting recent program on the TV station France24 focused on Syrians who have been left jobless because of the war and who have resorted to digging up archeological artifacts to sell for a living.

Having once been a state in the Roman Empire, Syria is an archeological heaven. Today, all archeological findings, predominantly made up of gold and silver coins, are smuggled across the border to Turkey. From Turkey, they are marketed to collectors in the West. 

Syrians who have lost everything because of the civil war explained on the program how they have been dislocated from their homes. They still have to earn a living. Many face the choice of either smuggling from their own country or becoming beggars in Turkey.

Out of the 3.9 million dislocated Syrians, almost 2 million - almost half are now in Turkey. In several neighborhoods of Istanbul, especially along major highways, little barefoot Syrian beggars have become part of our daily lives. 

This is a reality. Unfortunately, the drama of Syrian refugees and how they struggle to survive in Turkey is not discussed adequately. 

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) issued a report on Syrian refugees at the end of April, covering mostly the economic dimension of the crisis. It also referred to the social dimension. For instance, it said that out of 500,000 school-aged Syrian children in Turkey, only 175,000 are provided with an education, “increasing the risk of a lost generation of Syrians and social risks.”

Talking about social risks, at the end of my street there is a Roma-origin flower-seller called Zeynep, who always makes my day. Zeynep’s husband was stabbed by a group of Syrians on a highway where they were all trying to do the same job. He was hospitalized for 10 days.

Back to the CHP report, which said that up to now, $5.5 billion has been spent from Turkey’s general budget on Syrian refugees. But the effect of the crisis on Turkey’s economy is not limited to this. Because of the war, Turkey was not able to conduct exports amounting to $6 billion from 2011 to 2014. In the same period, we also lost $1.6 billion in revenue because of Syrian tourists not coming to Turkey. 

Syrian refugees have also caused unemployment in some towns. In Mardin, the unemployment rate, which was 12.3 percent in 2011, increased to 20.6 percent in 2013. 

What are the CHP’s suggestions on the issue? First, all Syrians should be registered and a healthy database should be formed. In those municipalities where more refugees are concentrated, the local municipality’s budget share should be increased. Another suggestion is for Turkey’s state Housing Development Association (TOKİ) to build new houses in provinces such as Gaziantep and Kilis that have been greatly affected by the influx. There should also be an effective fight against smuggling (especially of archeological artefacts) and unregistered economic activities.  

Due to the storm ahead of the June 7 elections, this important study of the CHP was not discussed as much as it deserved.

May/05/2015

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