Are Syrians weak in Turkey with 20,000 companies investing billions of dollars?

The first meeting of Syrian businessmen in Turkey during the activities of the Syrian International Business Association (SIBA TURK) - 7 November 2020 (SIBA TURK)

The first meeting of Syrian businessmen in Turkey during the activities of the Syrian International Business Association (SIBA TURK) - 7 November 2020 (SIBA TURK)


Enab Baladi – Diya Assi

The escalating tension towards the Syrians in Turkey, and the threat to their livelihood and destabilization, highlights the importance of the existence of an entity where the Syrians meet, to make their voice heard through the language of common interest, especially in the face of the inability of the Turkish-backed Syrian Opposition’s National Coalition to protect them.

The Syrians in Turkey find that using their economic weight, which is a mainstay in moving the wheel of production that feeds the country, is a way to achieve their demands and influence decision-making in a way that guarantees their security, but it seems that not everyone is unanimous in one opinion.

Enab Baladi searched for the most prominent potential entities bearing the features of an “economic lobby” and tried to address the causes of shortcomings and obstacles to the existence of an entity that represents the Syrians, preserves their existence and future, and solves their problems.

The most prominent of these entities are the Syrian International Business Association (Siba Turk) and the Syrian Businessmen Association (Suriad).

A pressure card, who owns it?

The Siba-Turk is an independent, non-profit, non-political association established in 2018 in Turkey and brings together Syrian businessmen and industrialists inside and outside Turkey.

The business association seeks to utilize the opportunities provided by the host country’s market; it also creates renewed investment opportunities based on the distinctive features of the Syrian business constituents, according to its official website.

SIBA summarizes its mission as “Representing and connecting Syrian businessmen in Turkey, in addition to linking them with their counterparts in the diaspora, as to protect their interests and develop their associations through implementing specialized programs and activities.”

In regard to its vision, it says that it is an influential power that affects the process of economic decision-making in Turkey, with an effective contribution to the developmental horizons.

Despite the difficult conditions they faced due to a lack of manpower and poor capabilities, in addition to the difficulty of obtaining financing and support from Turkish banks, Syrian businessmen in Turkey were able to prove their worth in the industrial and production cycle.

The association’s president and prominent businessman, Mahmoud Othman, told Enab Baladi, in a special interview, that the Syrian businessmen in SIBA have achieved great success compared to the modest capabilities available to them, so that many of their products find their way to the Arab countries and the European Union, passing through Asia and the US.

According to the Turkish Takvim newspaper, the number of Syrian companies in Turkey by March 2021 amounted to about 20 thousand small and medium-sized companies. As of January, Syrian-owned enterprises have contributed to the employment of 500,000 workers, including Turks.

The investments of Syrian businessmen in Turkey exceeded 10 billion US dollars, and their contribution to exports reached 3 billion US dollars to more than 50 countries, the newspaper added.

The EU-funded Euro-Mediterranean Forum of Economic Sciences Institutes (FEMISE) said in a report in September 2019 that the expected impact of Syrian refugees in terms of added value to the Turkish economy would rise to 4 percent by 2028, with one million Syrian refugee workers employed in Turkey.

Economic weight weakened by individuality

The prominent Syrian Businessmen Association in Turkey (Suriad) defines itself as a link between industrialists and Syrian businessmen, but it is difficult to claim that Syrian business associations represent the broad sector of the business world, says businessman Mahmoud Othman.

He pointed out that the associations in Turkey represent a limited segment of businessmen, within the scope of providing technical advice, trying to promote and strengthen the culture of “teamwork,” and convincing businessmen of what results from their unity and interdependence to become a difficult number in the economic equation.

“The weak culture of collective work among Syrians in general, and among businessmen and industrialists in particular, to form an economic weight with a significant entity, is one of the most important challenges facing them,” Othman asserts.

Many businessmen consider such conglomerates a waste of time and exhaustion in holding meetings, and the majority feel that such gatherings are unnecessary.

However, Othman believes that the recent circumstances threatening the stability of Syrians in Turkey are pushing many to support each other.

Despite this, the prominent businessman emphasized that the culture of teamwork, in light of the difficult circumstances that require Syrians to unite their efforts, is still weak and minimal, according to his description.

He pointed out that businessmen can become a firm grouping in the balance of power if they form a grouping of more than 1000 people, similar to the Independent Turkish Businessmen Association (MUSIAD), which started with modest capabilities in 1995.

With its approximately 13,000 members, MUSIAD has become an influential force in internal and external public opinion, as it is an important base that international financial committees and bodies refer to take advice and exchange opinions, according to Othman.

According to Othman, the Syrian associations are still in their infancy, and they are striving to work with their full capabilities, but it is not possible to talk about the case of organizing ranks in the hundreds, as the number of their members does not exceed dozens now.

Absence of “common interest” mentality

Syrian associations, whether Siba Turk or Suriad, cannot put pressure on the Turkish government in a number of demands not to rise to the rank of “economic lobby,” Othman says.

Nevertheless, SIBA is trying to build communication networks with the official Turkish authorities, whether with the Immigration Department or other ministries, in addition to the unions of chambers of commerce and industry, to communicate the problems and obstacles facing the Syrian members and workers, according to the association’s head.

Othman revealed that the association has a “strong” connection with the Turkish Immigration Department, which enables it to intervene to solve problems in the event that one of its members or employees is subjected to “irresponsible security breaches,” linking this to the person’s compliance with the basic laws in the country.

Othman talked about the accidents that some workers who comply with the system were subjected to, from being deported by mistake to solving the problem by communicating with the official authorities.

The association also has a group that communicates through the WhatsApp messenger application with the Istanbul Immigration Directorate, and there is a very fast response.

Othman noted that the Turkish authorities are doing everything possible to grant work permits to those who have the Temporary Protection Card (Kimlik), as the association calls for the preservation of the active Syrian workforce in Turkey.

On the other hand, the association cannot defend a person who violates the law by being without a “travel permit” in a state other than the one granted by the Kimlik, and this remains at the discretion of the Turkish state.

Individual endeavors not enough

The inability to form an “economic lobby” is primarily due to the Syrian society’s lack of a culture of collective action, as the majority of members in these associations joined with consent rather than out of complete conviction, according to Othman.

Some of the Syrian businessmen behave in an “absolute individualism,” represented by the Arabic saying, “Take off my thorn with my hand,” Othman laments.

Many of them charge the associations they join with what no business association can afford to achieve individual demands, he added.

Othman links this mentality to the lack of a culture of organization and the bloc in institutions that care for the interests of a large segment of Syrians in Turkey.

“If this problem were solved, we would be able to talk about an economic and social lobby,” he said.

Syrian business associations resort to personal relationships to replace the existence of an economic pressure group to solve the problems they face, according to Othman.

He added, “If we were organized and reached the number of thousands, we would be able to form a lobby to overcome the difficulties,” he says and confirms that “dispersion” is the problem of the Syrians themselves, not the problem of the Turkish authorities.

Othman hopes that businessmen from other associations will unite in a common vision because they constitute a “source of strength” if they form a single entity that brings them together, stressing the importance of institutional organization, regardless of the names, to form a pressure card that transcends demands.

“Empty factories” war

Recently, many Turkish media outlets, including the Turkish Kocaelikoz newspaper (KOZ), have reported a significant drop in production in many Turkish factories and workshops due to the Syrians leaving Turkey and the unwillingness of the Turks to do their jobs.

In November 2021, the Turkish opposition used a statement by Mahmoud Othman, head of the Siba Turk, to the Independent Türkçe newspaper to inflame public opinion.

Othman denied to Enab Baladi his defiance of the current or future Turkish government with his words about Syrians in Turkey, saying, “If they have the ability to deport them, let them do so,” and pointed out that the opposition had inflicted moral damage on him by “demonizing” the statement.

He explained that he expressed his conviction at the time, which he still maintains, that the Turkish business sector is in dire need of Syrian labor, stressing that “this is a fact that cannot be overlooked, and it cannot be bypassed, and no one will be able to bypass it.”

Othman indicated that Siba-Turk is not about to challenge the opposition or other institutions, but its goal is to build and produce and have a real footprint and contribution to the Turkish economy, given that the Syrians have become part of the economic structure through their large presence.

According to a statement by the Turkish Interior Minister, Süleyman Soylu, on 18 August, the number of Syrians who obtained Turkish citizenship reached 211,000.

Also, the number of Syrians who obtained a Temporary Protection Card in Turkey is 3,654,257 people, according to the recent statistics of the General Directorate of Turkish Migration Management.




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