Syrian car dealers say market fluctuates between inflation, elections

A car showroom in Avcilar, Istanbul - 23 December 2022 (Enab Baladi)

A car showroom in Avcilar, Istanbul - 23 December 2022 (Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli

Some of the Syrians went to work in the car trade with their entry into Turkey, especially the young men, with the facilities that were granted for the entry and exit of cars bearing Syrian plates through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in the northern Idlib region.

With the Turkish government beginning to implement legal measures that have limited these facilities since 2014, when the crossing was closed to civilian movement, the comfort of doing this trade has declined.

Shahm, 31, works in the car trade and started with one car that he managed to buy in 2016.

Through partnerships he established with other merchants, he was able to expand his business to three cars, which is the limit that the Turkish government allowed for a Syrian merchant who did not own a legal company in the country.

With the passage of time and the rise in inflation indicators in Turkey, some of Syrian car traders told Enab Baladi that they lost during one year what they had earned during the past years due to the difference in prices compared to the exchange rate of the dollar against the Turkish lira.

Car market at a standstill

Malik, 40, a car dealer in the Turkish state of Hatay, who has been working in the car market for about seven years, told Enab Baladi that Syrian merchants adapted to buying and selling in Turkey with time.

Buying and selling operations stop seasonally between October and February of each year, and customer demand declines during that period, as recent market fluctuations have affected this stability that Syrians are accustomed to.

Malik attributed the reasons for this stop to the offers launched by car companies, coinciding with the New Year’s celebrations.

In addition to others who refrain from buying to wait for the new laws and the tax decisions that the government issues every year about cars.

The disruption of the market halts the car business almost completely, while Syrian dealers consider it more tragic than their Turkish counterparts, given that they put all their money into the cars they own.

The car market stopped working this year and was not limited to the usual four months in each season, according to what traders told Enab Baladi.

Their work has been halted since the summer of this year due to the car dealers doubling the prices due to the instability of the Turkish lira exchange rate against the dollar.

Traders’ fear of losing their money prompted them to raise prices at a rate much higher than the rate of inflation in some cases, which led to customers refraining from buying since last August.

For his part, Shahm also said that the market revived during the first ten days of last October but then stopped again.

While the new Turkish-made cars contributed to the reduction of buying and selling, merchants and customers are looking today with anticipation at the impact that electric cars will impose if they spread in the market on cars that run on fuel.

Syrian cars a “problem” for buyers

The Syrian car trade was a starting point for the activity of many merchants, as these cars were roaming around with their Syrian license plates.

With the increase in the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey, the Turkish government decided to change the shape of these car plates to “temporary” Turkish plates, but they were distinguished from Turkish cars as having the letters “MA.”

Among the laws that have affected the legality of Syrian cars is that they are prohibited from being sold or traded within Turkish territory, and driving the cars is restricted to the owner or a person authorized by him/her.

With the repetition of such decisions, the Syrians stopped buying and selling cars that used to enter Turkey from northern Syria, which are usually sold at lower prices than those carrying Turkish papers, even though they are of the same model.

“These cars in recent years have become a burden even for their owners, especially those who have obtained Turkish citizenship, as they cannot be fully registered as a Turkish car, nor can they be sold,” Malik says.

The only way to solve the problem of the Syrian car is to return it to Syria through the land crossings and then sell it there at a low price.

The owners of some Syrian cars sold them by authorizing the buyer to drive without disclosing the sale process. The owner authorizes another person to drive it after signing the promissory notes in return for giving him the full price of the car so that the driver of the car becomes the agent for its owner after he pays the price for it to its original owner.

Some Syrians tend to buy Syrian cars in this way because legal complications make the car’s price cheaper than ordinary cars.

One of Malik’s customers, who entered Turkey with his car before 2014, and with time obtained Turkish citizenship, could no longer use the car or even sell it legally.

The owner of the car tried, in various ways, to transfer its property papers to give it normal legal status in Turkey, but his lawyer told him that there is no Turkish law that deals with this problem, which forced him to return the car and sell it in northern Syria.

Freelance work organized in companies

The merchants with whom Enab Baladi communicated shared their stories, stating that most of them started their projects as individuals, on a limited basis, in the Turkish market, then these projects turned into companies over time, including “limited” companies, and others that turned into large companies.

The economic instability in Turkey remains a handicap, but traders still view it as a temporary period.

The labor market has not witnessed a difference between Syrian and Turkish merchants since he first entered it several years ago, especially from a legal point of view, Malik told Enab Baladi.

At the same time, some merchants are afraid of entering the labor market in large cities, such as Istanbul, for example, according to what Shahm and Malik told Enab Baladi.

The two merchants said that even some Turks, who own limited companies in relatively small states, prefer to avoid entering the large labor markets, seeing them as a hotbed of fraud and theft.

Waiting elections outcome

Abdul Moein, who works in car trading, preferred to stop buying and selling temporarily until after the elections, as some Syrians working in this sector link the stability of prices to the approaching date of the Turkish presidential elections.

Syrians view the upcoming elections as potentially determining their future in the country.

While some merchants are reassured that the market situation can improve with the approaching elections, as the government seeks to improve market conditions, especially with the introduction of new cars manufactured in Turkey, many, including Abdul Moein, preferred to suspend their business until the legal status of Syrians in the country becomes clear, even those who obtained Turkish citizenship.

Thousands of Syrian companies in Turkey

By March 2021, the number of Syrian companies in Turkey reached 20,000 small and medium-sized companies.

According to the Turkish newspaper Takvim, until January 2022, Syrian-owned enterprises employed 500,000 workers, including Turks.

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

A report issued in September 2019 by the Euro-Mediterranean Forum for Institutes of Economic Sciences (FEMIS), funded by the European Union, predicted that the impact of Syrian refugees in terms of value added by them into the Turkish economy would rise to 4% by 2028, with one million Syrian refugee workers employed in Turkey.

The number of Syrians who obtained Turkish citizenship reached 211,000, the Turkish Minister of Interior, Suleiman Soylu, stated on 18 August.

According to the recent statistics of the General Directorate of Turkish Immigration Management, the number of Syrians residing in Turkey under temporary protection (Kimlik) status reached 3,561,883 people.



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