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Are Syrian Refugees Responsible for Turkey’s Economic Crisis?

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
30th May 2023
Are Syrian Refugees Responsible for Turkey’s Economic Crisis?
The UN estimated the number of refugees in Turkey at 3.7 million (Getty)

The influx of refugees, particularly Syrian refugees, has become a crucial topic of discussion in Turkey, especially during the recent Turkish elections. Many misleading and inaccurate information has been circulated regarding the number of refugees in the country, with claims that they have become a burden on the economy. This article aims to examine the impact of Syrian refugees on Turkey’s economy and address the misconceptions surrounding their presence.

The Number of Syrian Refugees in Turkey

Presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of allowing 10 million irregular refugees to enter the country, while Umit Ozdag, the head of the right-wing Victory Party, claimed that there are 13 million refugees in Turkey. However, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Turkey is host to approximately 3.7 million refugees, of which 3.6 million are Syrians. The Turkish Directorate of Migration Management's latest census estimates the number of Syrians registered in the temporary protection/asylum program to be around 3.4 million. It is crucial to clarify the accurate figures when discussing the economic impact of refugees in Turkey. 

The Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen Association "TUSIAD" 

TUSIAD, founded in 1971, is an association of wealthy Turkish businessmen who aimed to preserve their economic interests and uphold the secular values of the Turkish Republic. Over the years, TUSIAD has become a significant force in the Turkish economy, with its member companies contributing approximately 50% of the country's total domestic production. Moreover, TUSIAD companies account for 80% of corporate taxes in Turkey, granting them considerable economic weight and political influence. The association has faced accusations of involvement in military coups against previous governments. 

The Association of Independent Businessmen and Industrialists "MUSIAD" 

Contrary to TUSIAD's secular orientation, MUSIAD emerged as an association that embraced Islamic law. Founded in 1990, MUSIAD gained momentum during the premiership of Necmettin Erbakan, the former leader of the Islamic movement in Turkey. With the Justice and Development Party (AKP) coming to power, MUSIAD expanded its influence across various sectors, including mining, contracting, and electronic products. The association's international presence grew as it competed with TUSIAD, eventually becoming a member of the European Federation of Small and Medium Enterprises Associations. 

Arab Investments in Turkey through "ASSIAD" 

ASSIAD, the Association of Arab Businessmen and Industrialists in Turkey, formed a close partnership with MUSIAD. Founded in 2019, ASSIAD comprises 41 businessmen from the Middle East, with the majority being Syrians. The association has made significant investments in Turkey, surpassing $10 billion in 2021, and its members have played a role in job creation, benefiting both Turks and Syrians. ASSID's contribution to Turkey's economy is evident, with over 1,500 companies registered under its umbrella, accounting for more than 13% of all registered companies in the country in 2021. 

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Turkey's Per Capita GDP and Recovery 

Despite the ongoing economic crisis and the depreciation of the Turkish lira, Turkey's per capita GDP has shown signs of recovery. Since 2002, when the Justice and Development Party assumed power, per capita GDP has experienced significant growth. Although it reached its peak in 2013, it declined afterward due to various factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions. However, the per capita GDP started to rise again in 2021, indicating a positive trend. Additionally, the unemployment rate in Turkey has shown improvement compared to other countries, such as the United States and European Union members. 

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Positive Economic Contributions of Refugees in Turkey

A study conducted by Building Markets, a non-profit organization supporting economic growth, highlighted the positive economic contributions of refugees in Turkey. Syrian-owned small businesses have created job opportunities and contributed to the local economy. By 2020, Syrians had invested over $500 million in capital, establishing numerous businesses. These enterprises, primarily operating in wholesale/retail, manufacturing, and accommodation and food services, employ an average of 7 full-time workers. Despite facing unique challenges, such as limited experience in the local market and language barriers, Syrian-owned businesses have shown resilience and brought entrepreneurial skills and capital to Turkey. 

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Photo Description: Articles reporting refugee contribution to Turkey’s Economy.
A supporting image within the article body
Photo Description: Articles reporting refugee contribution to Turkey’s Economy.

Results of the Turkish Presidential Elections

The second round of the Turkish presidential elections concluded on Sunday, May 28, with the incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the leader of the Republican People's Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, as the candidates. Erdogan won a new five-year term with 52.09% of the votes, while Kilicdaroglu received 47.91%, after 99.17% of the votes were counted.

Misbar’s Sources: