As trade between Turkey and Syria comes to a near halt, an influx of journalists, government officials, and relatives of Syrian refugees boosts business in some sectors of Hatay's economy.
By Esra Serez for Southeast European Times in Hatay -- 27/06/11
Refugee crisis has been a boon for some local Turkish businesses. [Reuters]
Trade between Turkey and Syria has taken a substantial hit since anti-government protests in Syria began in mid-March. However, the economy of some small border villages and districts in the southern province of Hatay has flourished with the inflow of refugees.
"We are experiencing the most lively trade of recent years. We have had a 30-40% increase in sales [since displaced Syrians started fleeing to Turkey about three weeks ago]," Kemal Sakarya, 39, the owner of a textile retail store in Hatay's Yayladagı district told SETimes.
About 12,000 Syrians have fled to refugee camps in the province of Hatay since the beginning of June, after a government crackdown in the country.
"Needless to say, the Syrian people's situation does not please us. However, their displacement has positively affected businesses in Hatay's border districts and villages," Sakarya said, adding that the impact is positive on other sectors, such as food and transportation.
"We see such intensity of work only twice a year, during Bayrams [main religious holidays for Muslims]," he added.
Gulbeyaz Cakmacı, 20, who has been looking after her uncle's grocery shop for seven months, says sales haveincreased by about 30% since displaced Syrians entered Turkey. "Personnel from the Governor's Office or Foreign Affairs Ministry, relatives of Syrians staying in the camps, as well as journalists come to the shop at least two to three times a day," she said, adding that the Syrian pound is also used in transactions.
"My business has expanded by 50% during June," said Ercan Atmaca, 30, who has been running his fast-food business in Yayladagı for 16 years.
Turmoil in Syria has, however, badly hit Hatay and Turkey's trade with Syria. Entries from Syria to Turkey through Cilvegozu and Yayladagi, the province's two border points, has almost stopped and the activity of about 90% of Hatay's small enterprises that trade with Syria has almost ceased operating, according to the Hatay Chamber of Commerce and Industry secretary general Serdar Yılmaz Sarac.
Small firms make up 60% of all enterprises in Hatay, he added.
"Most of Hatay's business deals come either through agriculture or trade. One-day trade is very common, and jumped two fold after Turkey's visa liberalisation with Syria. Business activity has practically frozen since the events in Syria," Sarac told SETimes.
Hatay's total exports to Syria were 104.9m dollars in 2009 and increased to 118.5m dollars in 2010, following the visa liberalisation. The number of visitors who entered the border points almost doubled year-on-year and hit 1.4 million in 2010.
"We have had difficulties with the delivery of orders. Payments are not made to us either and about 90% of my business came to an halt," Mehmet Guzel, the owner of a medium enterprise that produces machinery for the manufacture of olive products in Hatay, told SETimes.
Trade with Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt has also stopped since the events in Syria, which is the transportation route to all these other countries, Guzel added.
Turkey and Syria signed a free trade agreement in 2007. Crude oil, minerals, cotton thread, textiles, meat and livestock, as well as grain are Syria's top exports to Turkey. Meanwhile, Turkish exports mainly include machiney and vehicles, electrical equipment, food products and intermediary goods.
Guzel said he had not looked for alternative destinations. "Middle Eastern countries are the only rational destination for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). We have the same culture and we know the language. Geographical proximity is also key."
The number of displaced Syrians and the approach of the Syrian army to the Turkish border make the situation ambiguous. One thing is clear though: Hatay and Turkey's local businesses do not want instability in the region. "Now that elections are over, the government must look ahead. It should not only look at internal politics. We need long term policies," Guzel said.