Distressed by the number of Syrian refugees in the province of Gaziantep having, as per estimates, already exceeded 200,000, which represents a little more than one-tenth of the population of the province, nongovernmental organizations led by the Gaziantep Chamber of Commerce have drawn up a report enumerating the problems the province is facing due to the high influx of refugees caused by the civil war in Syria.
The problems the border province, particularly the city of Gaziantep, the provincial capital, are facing are categorized under four major areas -- security, economy, health and education -- according to the “Gaziantep Common Wisdom Report,” which was submitted by a delegation from the NGOs to a number of Cabinet ministers about a week ago.
Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay told members of the delegation who were in Ankara that he would bring the issue up in the following Cabinet meeting, while Faruk Çelik, the labor and social security minister, announced that his ministry would start working on proposals on the steps to be taken to allow the Syrian refugees to be able to officially work to earn money.
“These people should be able to work here because they have no more money left,” Kürşat Göncü, secretary-general of the Gaziantep Chamber of Industry, told Sunday's Zaman.
Many of the Syrians who sought refuge in Turkey were unable to bring along their passports before leaving Syria as they were, in most cases, possibly viewed by the regime as supporters of opposition groups fighting against it. As they do not have a passport, they cannot obtain a residence permit or a work permit in Turkey.
The Gaziantep Chamber of Industry and the Gaziantep City Council also, about over a year ago, prepared reports drawing attention to the same problems underlined in the recent report drawn up by 15 NGOs, including universities, based in the province in coordination with the Gaziantep Chamber of Commerce.
The number of Syrians in Gaziantep who are officially authorized to work is no more than 50, Göncü estimates. Noting that Syrians get the opportunity to work unofficially only in small trade establishments in the city, Göncü said, “When they work in factories based in organized industrial zones [in the province], the companies are then fined for employing workers who do not have a residence permit in Turkey.”
Noting that the number of Syrian refugees, which Turkey officially recognizes as “guests,” as well as refugee-related problems, have been on the rise day by day, the report drew attention to the fact that the number of Syrians who have settled in the province since the civil war in Syria broke out is even more than the entire population of Nizip, the biggest district in the province.
According to official figures, the number of Syrians living in the province, including those being hosted in refugee camps by Turkey, is 150,000. “But it is estimated that the number of guests, when we add those who are not officially registered, exceeds 200,000,” the report said.
In terms of security, according to the report, Gaziantep is concerned that the province may become a target, given that opposition groups are currently working in Gaziantep to set up a temporary government in case Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is forced to leave power.
With the arrival of Syrian refugees, the number of crimes in Gaziantep has increased by 10 percent. In order to prevent an increase in the crime rate of the province, officials have considered providing monthly financial aid to the Syrian families in the province who are in need.
Unofficial employment in the province is on the rise due to the high number of Syrians. The report proposes that Syrians be given temporary work permits which should be canceled when the civil war ends. The state should pay the social security contribution of Syrian employees so that they have health insurance.
Noting that Syrian refugees are expected to remain in Turkey for quite some time even after the civil war comes to an end as the economic infrastructure of Syria has been destroyed, the report also proposes that steps be taken to integrate Syrians into the city of Gaziantep.
A quarter of the total number of Syrian refugees in Turkey are believed to be in Gaziantep. Rents in the city have increased considerably.
Some wealthy Syrians have opened their own businesses in Gaziantep. For instance, Muhammed Sabri Badincki, who owned a factory in Aleppo, opened a restaurant in Gaziantep and 75 percent of his customers are Syrians.
Syrians working as illegal workers in the province help with the shortage of workers but also pose a great security problem. The last example of this took place a couple of months ago when Bülent Bulduk, the owner of an atelier in Gaziantep, was attacked by his Syrian employee. The Syrian worker put his employer into a coma and fled after stealing TL 325 from his pocket. He is still at large and has most likely returned to Syria.
Turkey currently hosts 218,000 Syrians in camps in 22 refugee camps in 10 provinces. Including those who live by their own means outside of the camps, the number of Syrian refugees in the country is estimated to be over 700,000, possibly even more than 800,000. Turkey has so far spent $3 billion on the Syrian refugees hosted in the camps.