Syrian contribution to the Turkish economy and the need for a long-term plan for their integration
Junich Ashik – Harvard Business Review – Translation and editing of Press Press
In 2014, the Temporary Protection of Aliens Act gave refugees access to public services, such as education and health care. But this protection does not include a long-term vision of integration; no one in Turkey expected the duration and intensity of the humanitarian crisis in Syria. In addition, the March 2016 agreement between the European Union and Turkey closed the EU borders to refugees, and Turkey was entrusted with the task of dealing with millions of Syrian refugees alone.
Nearly three million Syrians now live in Turkey, making up 3.5 percent of Turkey’s population. Of these, 1.8 million are of working age, with the majority having low skills and language barriers. One study showed that 80% of refugees living outside refugee camps had eight years of schooling or less, and only 10% had university degrees.
Unemployment rates have risen in areas with larger refugee populations, possibly indicating that Syrian refugees are replacing Turkish uneducated citizens as a source of cheap labor. This may be one of the reasons for the increase in civil unrest, as elsewhere in the world, as xenophobia is increasing in Turkey. The daily discourse of “Syrians our guests” has turned into criticism and suspicion.
When President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan proposed granting citizenship to some Syrians, especially doctors and engineers, some opposition reactions emerged. Some people complain that Turkish soldiers are dying on Syrian soil in battles with a thief while refugees rest and collect social aid.
A long-term framework for the integration of Syrian refugees is an urgent domestic policy to stop such tensions. It is also necessary to prevent the vulnerable Syrians from being exploited economically. A survey conducted in 2013 shows that the average income of men outside refugee camps (where they are not allowed to work) was $ 160 per month, well below the Turkish minimum monthly wage of approximately $ 400. Child labor is on the rise (there are 1 million Syrian children under the age of 15 in Turkey). One study indicates that most Syrian children worked in 2015 for more than eight hours a day almost daily, and the average daily earnings were less than $ 12. When police raided a factory in 2016, thousands of fake life jackets that were to be sold to refugees trying to cross illegally into Greece were seized, and more tragic that the factory was occupied by Syrian children.
However, there is growing evidence that Syrians are contributing to the Turkish economy despite the challenges and economic costs of integration. Some of them create jobs through projects. Of every three newly established foreign companies in Turkey, one is owned by Syrians, The number of new companies owned by Syrians in 2015 reached 2.4%. Syrians are also boosting exports to the Middle East, and the share of Syrian companies is rising significantly in the south-eastern region of Turkey, especially in Gaziantep, the main export hub for the Middle East and North Africa. Many economists also believe that the Syrians have boosted consumption growth in an economy heavily dependent on consumption. This is one reason why Turkey’s GDP grew by 2.9% in 2016, despite a failed coup attempt, terrorist attacks, political unrest and a halt to international capital flows felt by emerging economies.
Recent studies reveal that when Syrian businessmen moved to Turkey, they also moved their commercial networks. My next research shows that the average wage in official jobs has risen slightly with the establishment of new Syrian companies, and with the increase in capital they bring down unemployment insurance claims.
It is time for the Turkish government to build on these promising signs and work towards the long-term integration of refugees into the economy. My research and other economic research suggest that targeted training programs, tax incentives and credit easing measures can at least partially offset the financial cost of absorbing Syrian refugees as well as future social costs. The new policies can have a special impact on the younger generation of refugees, most of whom are bilingual (speak Turkish and Arabic) and have a strong interest in creating a new life for themselves in Turkey. Government policy makers will be wise to help ease the restrictions on loans to Syrians; fostering entrepreneurship can increase regional exports and create jobs.
Lower-skilled Syrian refugees can also help meet the demand for care services in Turkey. As in countries such as the United States and Germany, Turkey faces the economic challenge of the aging workforce and the failure to meet the requests for care for the elderly and children. As in other countries, where migrants often do these jobs, the less educated Syrian refugees can find work in this area. However, it is also important to give the Syrians more access to education, which undoubtedly increases participation in the economy. Targeted government training programs and some tax-exempt programs may make a difference in terms of integration, employment and co-existence while expanding the overall size of the economic pie at the same time so that people born in Turkey with lower skills can find employment.
The Syrians no longer feel as welcome as when Turkey opened its borders for the first time to give them a safe haven, but with