Syrians in Turkey face economic aftershocks as livelihoods laid to waste

6 min read
Turkey - Istanbul
15 February, 2023

Syrians and Turks have been left reeling as they face the death and destruction wrought by the catastrophic earthquake that hit southern Turkey and northwest Syria last Monday, with aftershocks continuing for days.

As the number of dead rises by the day, currently over 41,000, and with thousands more injured, the immediate concern in both countries is still to rescue as many survivors as possible, although hope has dwindled after over a week since the quake.

However, for those who have survived, another calamity is looming - the loss of thousands of livelihoods under the rubble.

The economic aftermath of the earthquake is expected to lead to a steep deterioration in the already harsh living standards for thousands of Syrian families across the afflicted regions, who may be left dependent on aid and shelters - as will be the case for many Turkish families as well.

The worst is yet to come for living standards

Some predict that the coming period may see the worst living conditions yet – even after over a decade of war had left hundreds of thousands destitute in northwest Syria before the quake, and life had been far from easy for those resettled in Turkey, who had slowly rebuilt lives and livelihoods over the last decade.

 "For those who have survived, another calamity is looming - the loss of thousands of livelihoods under the rubble"

Syrian citizen Ibrahim Awad, who lives in Antakya province, says his work is gone and the small business he saved up to establish has been destroyed. He and his family have fled to an encampment on an agricultural road where dozens of Turks and Syrians are staying temporarily.

He told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition, that everything he saved over the five years he was working in the construction sector had gone, but the most important thing was his family's safety, "because we saw death with our own eyes after the building completely collapsed".

Families' safety first concern

Omar Hussein, a Syrian from Gaziantep says that the olive pressing facility where he worked was badly damaged and inoperable, reflecting the situation across much of the city. He explained that most Gaziantep residents were concerned with their families' safety, and "talking about work" would come later.

People watching the rescue work, in Hatay, Turkey, on 14 February, 2023. [Umit Turhan Coskun/NurPhoto via Getty]

Regarding the scale of material losses likely inflicted by the earthquake, Turkish economist Müslüm Uysal estimates it will be in the "tens of billions of dollars", after the destruction of up to 7,000 residential buildings, as well as premises which had housed businesses and services. Additionally, telecommunications, electricity, and gas networks were down in most of the affected provinces.

"It is too early to assess the extent of the damage, but maybe the fact that Turkey issued a level four alarm, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency in the affected provinces, show that Turkey is not capable of carrying out rescue operations on its own, nor of withstanding the burdens and losses, and it urgently needs international support," said Uysal.

Economic researcher and former director of the Turkish Ikhlas Agency in Syria, Ghiath Sahloul, said the losses incurred by Syrians living in Turkey are huge, as over two million Syrians were residents of the afflicted provinces. This is because the region borders Syria and so these provinces were naturally the first to receive Syrians in 2011-12.

"The southern regions, Gaziantep and Mersin especially, were the backbone of Turkish export production – official statistics have been published showing that around 56 percent of Turkish exports were manufactured in the south"

Syrian investments go up in smoke

This led Syrian investment in Turkey, especially in the industrial sectors, to be concentrated mostly in Gaziantep, Urfa, Mersin, and Antakya, he says. According to Sahloul, there are around 13,880 Syrian-owned companies in Turkey, which constitute around 29 percent of all foreign-owned companies in the country.

Abdul Ghafour Saleh Asfour, head of the Association of Arab Businessmen and Industrialists (ASYAD), revealed last year that Syrian businessmen had made investments of over $10 billion in Turkey, according to the newspaper Turkiye Gazetesi.

However, Sahloul said many Syrian businesses and investments in property and industry had been badly damaged, if not wiped out entirely, in the affected provinces. Significant Syrian businesses remain in Istanbul, Ankara, Bursa, and the Black Sea cities, which were involved in the service industry, tourism, real estate, and financial investments, as well as some industrial investments in Yalova and Bursa provinces, he added.

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"The earthquake has destroyed the bulk of property belonging to Syrians, as well as their investments, in the southern provinces of Turkey, especially Antakya and Gaziantep," engineer Mahrous Al Khatib, a Syrian investor in solar energy and modern irrigation who works in Hatay, southern Turkey, as well as farms in northwest Syria, said.

Syrian contribution to Turkey's growing export sector

He added that he used to call Gaziantep 'New Aleppo', due to the large number of Syrian businesses in the city, particularly in the textiles, food, and leather industries. He pointed out that the contribution of Syrian manufacturers and traders in the province had been growing over the years, and the province had increased its exports significantly in 2022.

Hatay-based Syrian engineer Adnan Tamer stresses that the southern regions, Gaziantep and Mersin especially, were the backbone of Turkish export production, with official statistics showing that around 56 percent of Turkish exports were manufactured in the south. He adds that exports form a major pillar of Turkey's economy, accounting for around one-third of the country's GDP.  

Tamer estimates that around 36 percent of businesses owned by Syrians in the south had exported all or most of their produce.

"Syrian companies and traders have played their part in the growing number of Turkish exports in recent years to the Gulf states and Europe, with all these products labelled 'Made in Turkey', whether the businesses producing them were Syrian or Turkish," he said.

Mahmoud Aydin, a business owner in Istanbul, says he expects that tourism will be severely impacted as a result of the earthquake - especially winter tourism which usually brings many tourists to Bursa and other provinces with ski resorts and thermal mineral waters, adding that a large number of Syrians work in the tourism and service industries in all of Turkey's major cities. 

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition with additional reporting. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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