Syrian Refugees’ Turkey Turnkey Track

A three month study of Syrian refugee entrepreneurs in Turkey, conducted by nonprofit research groups with Canadian support and titled “another side to the story,” estimates over 10000 formal and informal startups the past five years with the former accounting for almost $350 million in investment. Three-quarters are “micro” with fewer than ten employees, with average annual revenue close to half  a million dollars dominated by retail and wholesale trade. Owners are well educated with 70 percent holding at least university degrees, and the same portion intends to keep existing operations after the war ends. Language and inability to access credit or official procurement bids are major barriers, but most of the 250 companies surveyed are positive about the future with asset purchase and expansion plans. Almost two million refugees are working age and 90 percent are in urban areas, with the paper focused on Istanbul and the border town of Gaziantep. Public spending for the crisis, mostly funded internally, has been under 1 percent of GDP, and the influx spurred offsetting consumption and infrastructure contributions. Humanitarian exports quadrupled Gaziantep’s trade to $400 million from 2011-15, as prices fell due to increased immigration providing underground labor. While Turkey’s economy is almost ten times the size of other refugee hosts Jordan and Lebanon combined, integration has been “challenging” with Syrians getting only round 15 percent of  75000 authorized foreigner work permits in 2016, with the remaining hundreds of thousands in informal jobs with minimal pay and protection. From January-April 2017 675 new companies started and the Syrian share is 40 percent of all non-resident control, with the southeast and western cities emerging as hubs, according to the leading association of business executives. Owners overwhelmingly found registration “easy” even though only 10 percent have Turkish partners. One-quarter are in manufacturing where the country is competitive in food, machinery and textile exports. Female entrepreneurs concentrate in services including catering, tourism and translation. The typical stay before launch was almost two and a half years, and 70 percent previously ran operations in Syria where they reported three times more staff.

Over 80 percent have home country passports instead of “temporary protection” status that facilitates internal and external travel.  One third of owners speak no Turkish, and three-quarters use the internet for marketing. Almost all respondents had bank accounts but they reported difficulties securing guarantees and credit cards and few took out loans, as compared with 40 percent of all small and midsize firms in national statistics. The vast majority do not receive development or training help from outside organizations, despite initiatives by chambers of commerce, the UN and World Bank. Legal-accounting and technology advice are priorities, but skilled employee availability is sufficient although 15 percent worry about retention with resettlement often shifting personnel. Joint arrangements are increasingly considered permanent as firms envision a long-term presence should peace and reconstruction loom anytime soon. The report urges higher formalization, work permits and  company refugee quotas and a dedicated network of language and professional instruction. It recommends a senior executive mentor program and outreach to the Syrian diaspora in the region and overseas to stimulate venture capital relationships despite frayed diplomatic ones.

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