Remittances: A pressure on refugees but a “palliative” for Syria residents
Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud
The deteriorating living conditions in Syria, specifically in regime-controlled areas, have deepened the financial and material needs of residents in those areas, which in turn has had an impact on Syrians residing abroad who send remittances to their families in those areas.
In the past few months, the economic level has declined to unprecedented levels, which were not restored by the public-sector salary increase approved by the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, on August 15.
The increase was accompanied by a greater increase in fuel prices and opened the door to peaceful popular protests in southern Syria. It also incited the desire to emigrate and leave Syrian territory among others, which was evident in repeated announcements by the Lebanese army aimed at thwarting attempts at “illegal” immigration from Syria to Lebanon.
Istanbul-based refugee Iyad told Enab Baladi that he used to transfer between 1,000 to 2,000 Turkish liras to his family who still live in the regime-held areas, but these amounts no longer had any effect after being converted into the Syrian pound, in the face of the sharp rise in prices and the poor value of monthly government pensions.
Iyad added that he receives his monthly salary in Turkish lira, which means that the value of the salary has already declined compared to the exchange rate of the US dollar. In view of this, he found himself forced to double the amount he sends to his family in Syria to approach the value of what he was sending previously, and this amount is not small for someone who receives the minimum amount. The lowest wage in Turkey is 11,402 Turkish liras.
Iyad is in constant contact with his family, who relay to him the details of the rise in prices on an instantaneous and daily basis, which forces him to increase the amount he transfers to the family before talking about his personal needs and the financial obligations imposed on him, such as food, clothing, transportation fees, housing, in addition to the rise in the prices of goods and products in Turkey.
“The fall of the local currency in Syria and Turkey forces me to transfer about 4,000 to 5,000 TL per month, which is not a small amount for someone who earns about 12,000 or 13,000 Turkish liras. What remains of my salary is not enough to cover my expenses and obligations,” Iyad added.
As of October 31, the US dollar is trading at 13,850 SYP according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar. At the start of the conflict in 2011, the dollar was trading at 47 pounds.
As for the Turkish lira against the US dollar, the trading rate of one dollar against TL reached 28.3, according to the doviz website for currency rates.
According to the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions, food expenses during last September (the minimum level of hunger) for a family of four people amounted to about 13,334 Turkish liras.
The Confederation’s research also determined the poverty limit for a family of four at approximately 43,433 Turkish liras, which includes food, rent, education, and health care, while the total monthly cost of living for one person exceeds 17,336 TL.
Given the level of living needs in regime-controlled areas, Abu Amer, a public sector employee with a monthly salary of 250,000 Syrian pounds (less than $20), said that his family, which includes his wife and two daughters, needs about $300 a month to secure their daily expenses.
Abu Amer receives about $100 from this amount through transfers sent to him by a family member, noting that the insufficiency of the amount opens the door to a large accumulation of debts, which are difficult to pay and later require a money transfer as well to deal with.
The man said, “I depend heavily on remittances. The salary does not last five days, and the matter also depends on the value of the remittance.”
Since 2020, about 90% of Syrians have been living below the poverty line, according to what the representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Syria, Akjemal Magtymova, stated earlier, in addition to reports from UN and international organizations that constantly warn of the severity of the humanitarian situation in Syria and the depth of the needs of residents in various areas of control for humanitarian aid.
During a briefing he presented to the Security Council on June 29, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths indicated that 90% of Syrians are below the poverty line, with expectations that this number is currently higher.
According to a previous statement by António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, the living situation in other areas of influence is not considered stable, as 2.7 million people in northwestern Syria, within opposition-controlled areas, depend on life-saving UN aid, which enters the region through the Bab al-Hawa crossing with Turkey.
The economic and financial expert, Dr. Firas Shaabo, told Enab Baladi that the situation in which the need is increasing at home, while there is already financial pressure abroad, does not have an accurate economic description, but the difficult economic conditions and the anxious displacement of Syrians (unstable displacement), as a result of disasters, bombings, and earthquakes are exacerbating needs.
The refugee looking to improve his life conditions and wanting to establish himself and save, for example, found himself forced, by virtue of blood ties and social ties, to help the displaced person within Syria, for example, and within the minimum limits, not exceeding about $50 or $70 at times.
But this amount constitutes a lifeline for the needs of the Syrians, and in the opinion of the economic expert, it is a means of livelihood inside Syria, and this situation continues and is affected by changing incidents. In the event of earthquakes or disasters, the level of sending money to residents of the affected area increases, even if this causes greater economic pressure on the sender.
“The environment inside Syria is economically weak, as neither humanitarian organizations nor any government is able to cover the need, in addition to a successive collapse in the value of the local currency, which made the refugee forced to participate in rescuing his family or those close to him, and trying to provide them with as much livelihood as possible,” Dr. Shaabo added.
In order to overcome the financial burdens, which are not personal burdens, the refugee is forced to work more, and perhaps in an unauthorized manner, to secure his needs and provide for his family, which in turn generates another kind of pressure, as he works more but not for himself on the personal level.
To overcome this situation, many refugees change their consumption and spending habits, in addition to trying to save money and work more, but for those residing inside Syria, this idea is not applicable, given that the Syrian citizen has abandoned many of the basics of food and life in order to adapt, and is no longer able to adapt more after giving up very basic needs, according to the expert.
Dr. Shaabo pointed out that the Syrian regime is benefiting and profiting from this situation, as it guarantees dollar transfers into the interior, which are received by transfer companies under its control, which leads to more pressure on those residing at home in order to push those residing abroad to transfer more money, and the continuation of this situation may lead to violent rebounds on more than one level.
A study issued by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in September 2019 said the dispersion that Syrians experienced during the years of the revolution led to improved living conditions for many families.
According to the study, fathers were the ones who controlled the family’s property and resources, which gave them the ability to exercise their economic role effectively during the first years of the Syrian revolution, and then the financial burdens were transferred to the children’s generation, which demonstrated a greater ability to adapt to changes in the labor market, as after 2011, many children were able to change their professions, unlike parents who showed less flexibility about this.
With many families losing their property as a result of bombing and military operations, the children gained the economic role in the family, while the parents maintained the social role linking the family members.
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