With up to 40% lower prices than that of Syrian chicken, frozen chicken coming into regime-held areas from Turkey has invaded the Syrian market in recent months, despite warnings by the Ministry of Economy and the Consumer Protection Agency.
Over the past four months, chicken in its different forms (whole, chest, thigh, drumstick) has become the main issue of concern for pro-regime media and officials, especially after the spread of Turkish chicken on the Syrian market. This led the media to warn people about its lack of hygiene, in addition to raising many questions regarding how it entered from Turkey and who is responsible for its entry. However, these questions remain unanswered.
In addition to the regime-held areas, the importation of Turkish chicken has reached opposition-held areas such as Idlib and its rural areas. Thus, Turkish chicken has become a main dish on Syrian dinner tables due to the decline of local poultry farms for security and economic reasons, according to Enab Baladi’s observations.
Complaints and Warnings
The pro-regime newspaper “Techrin” cited a number of complaints from consumers who bought the frozen chicken (known as ‘Turkish chicken’) at high prices without knowing its source or whether it was legally imported or smuggled in and whether or not it was suitable for consumption.
Last month, the head of the Hama branch of the Veterinarians’ Union, Zafer Kuku, warned of the presence of some types of chicken that enter Hama from Turkey and cause illnesses such as diarrhoea and typhoid fever. According to him, “Its health standards are not guaranteed”.
Kuku stressed that the aim behind “bringing in these chicken products is an effort by neighbouring countries, especially Turkey, to influence the national economy and to undermine Syrian animal products.”
The popularity of the frozen chicken is due to its low price, around 625 Syrian Lira per kilo – although the price varies according to the part of the chicken (drumstick or thigh) and supply and demand – while the price of one kilo of Syrian chicken is around 1035 Syrian Lira, as set by the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Protection, according to a statement issued on 1 December. This means the smuggled chicken is far less expensive and more in demand among consumers.
As for how the chicken enters Syria, the General Secretary of the Consumer Protection Association in Damascus and its suburbs, Mohammed Bassam Darwish, said in an interview with the newspaper “al-Watan” that the chicken enters in cars coming from Turkey into opposition-held areas in Idlib and its suburbs, and then “enters into the slaughterhouses in Hama and is placed in water until it defrosts. It is then re-packaged as if it was slaughtered locally”. It is sold in Hama’s markets and in other provinces, especially the city of Damascus, which has the highest consumption of chicken.
Who is Responsible for Smuggling Chicken?
Despite being aware of the smuggling, the regime has not revealed the names of those responsible in Hama and its suburbs. Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Idlib reports that the village of Abu Dali in Hama, which is controlled by pro-regime clans led by member of parliament Sheikh Ahmed Darwish, is behind the smuggling.
He explained that there are traders in northern Syria who bring the frozen chicken in from Turkey, which they put in warehouses in the city of Hama, after paying Sheikh Darwish’s clan to let their trucks pass through security checkpoints.
The Sheikh’s group is paid in proportion to the amount of protection needed for the trucks to get to the right destination without any obstruction. If they pay a large amount of money, the Sheikh sends cars to accompany the trucks in order to prevent security officials from inspecting them.
The road from Hama to Abu Dali and the liberated areas is a lifeline for the traders and smugglers. It operates under coordination and mutual agreement between various parties to facilitate movement. There are no checkpoints and no inspection procedures by the militias, which are located not far from the road. They use the road for a number of purposes but its main use is for trade between regime areas and the liberated areas.
The commander of the al-Abrar battalion, which is part of the Ajnad al-Sham group, Mohamed Shokri, explained in an earlier report for Enab Baladi that the regime has not take any decision to stop Sheikh Ahmed Darwish, despite being fully aware of what he and his group are doing, “because it takes advantage of all the supplies that enter through the village”.
Bab Al-Hawa Border Crossing Refuses to Give Statement
The frozen chicken enters the opposition-held areas in Idlib and the surrounding areas through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria. Enab Baladi tried to reach the border officials and their media office by phone and email to ask about the amount of produce entering through the crossing and procedures for inspecting it and checking whether it is suitable for consumption but we were asked to contact the border crossing in northern Idlib instead.
One of the former members of the Bab al-Hawa media bureau, Thaer Haji Hamdan, said in an interview with Enab Baladi that the frozen chicken was checked by specialized veterinarians in accordance with international standards, in collaboration with the Directorate of Health in Idlib.
Enab Baladi also contacted Doctor Jumaa Omar, who formerly supervised the inspection of chicken before leaving to set up a laboratory with a number of other veterinarians, but he refused to give any statement about the procedures at the crossing as he said that he had left his job there a month and a half ago.
Despite the fact that trade between the two countries is officially suspended, Turkey has become the source for many basic materials and food that enter Syria, regardless of the different parties in control on the ground. It has become the source for many of Syria’s imported goods. According to data released by the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade published on 28 November, the value of imports reached 1.5 billion dollars, down from 1.8 billion in 2010.