The brutal conflict in Syria took its toll on civilians all over Syria, sending more than 6.2 million people into internal displacement and 5.4 million people into refuge. Turkey has become a safe refuge for more than 3.4 million of Syrian refugees, making it the country hosting the highest number of refugees around the world.
While Turkey provides a safe place for refugees to rebuild their lives, without stable sources of income, affording their basic needs has become one of their biggest challenges. Meanwhile, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated their struggling. With funding from Federal Republic of Germany through KfW Development Bank, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) is helping thousands of refugees access work opportunities by providing courses and in-kind business grants to help refugees start their own businesses.
The shoemaking business was not handed down to Fatima – she fell in love with the craft on her own and explored the realms of hand-making footwear. Today, she relies on shoemaking to provide for her family.
When Fatima and her family first arrived, they lived in a refugee camp near the Syrian border, that is until the Turkish government decided to shut down the camp allowing refugees to live in urban areas. “Moving outside of the camp was when my whole life changed,” said Fatima. The family first moved to Gaziantep where they lived for a year. Fatima and her husband got separated and he decided to move back to Syria, leaving Fatima the sole supporter of their three children.
Fatima struggled to find work in Gaziantep and decided to move to Kahramanmaras, where her life “finally began”.
“When I first arrived in Kahramanmaras, I realised that the language was one of the biggest barriers between me and the people around me,” said Fatima. After making this realisation, Fatima enrolled in a Turkish course and soon after found a job in a shoemaking workshop. “I started as a trainee but soon fell in love with the craft and grew better at it,” she added. While she made enough money to cover her needs, she felt like she was facing income inequality.
After receiving our business management course and an in-kind grant, Fatima finally had the equipment and the machine to help her start her business from home. Fatima’s business has been growing ever since and has allowed her to provide a better life for her children. “I can finally afford to send my children to a good private school,” she said. “When work is busy, I make enough money to cover our needs and can even put some away for less busy days – something I learned from the course!” she said with a laugh. Knowing how to budget her income has cushioned Fatima from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though she has had to shut down for a couple of months this year, Fatima’s savings have been a lifeline for her small family to survive.
While Fatima is ecstatic with how far she has come, she has bigger dreams.
Working towards realising that dream, Fatima has partnered up with a Turkish workshop owner and they are working together to build a name for themselves.
As he closed his shop for the day, Mazen found it surreal how his life has changed throughout the years. He was not sure he would be able to ever recover financially, having lost everything to the conflict in Syria.
After arriving to Hatay in 2015, Mazen and his family lived in small house, however, the 46-year-old man struggled to put food on the table. “As the sole breadwinner of the family, I had to find something to do,” said the father of three. Back in Aleppo, Mazen owned a small maintenance workshop which he ran for extra income, and so he decided to try and open a workshop in Turkey as well. “It was a safe option since I was experienced in running such a business,” he added.
With the knowledge he gained from our business management course and the in-kind grant, Mazen opened his small maintenance workshop. “I was provided with the equipment I needed to start working,” he said. With his workshop up and running, Mazen can cover his family’s needs and even put some money on the side. “Summertime is usually very good for the business, however, when winter hits, days could pass without any customers, that’s when savings come in handy,” he added.
For Syrian refugees in Turkey, home-based and small businesses have become a lifeline.
Like many hopeful students around the world, Ibrahim dreamed of the day he would graduate and work with his degree. And like millions of people living in Syria, his life was interrupted when the Syria conflict erupted.
When Ibrahim first arrived in Turkey in 2013, he first lived in Gaziantep, a city in the south-eastern part of Turkey, he worked with some family members in a decorations company. “Having had experience in this field during my time off school back in Syria, this was a great opportunity for me,” he said. However, after the company shut down, he found himself jobless and with two children to support. While Ibrahim tried to find work, most of the jobs he could find were daily labour work with no stable income.
In the hopes of finding better work opportunities, Ibrahim moved his family to Hatay, a southern Turkish province, where his work finally picked up. “Hatay was full of opportunities, especially in the construction and decoration field,” said Ibrahim. Soon after moving to Hatay, Ibrahim was able to find more stable work opportunities, however, having to rent the equipment he needs meant he was not making enough to cover his needs.
After receiving our business management course and the in-kind grant, Ibrahim finally owned the equipment he needed and was able to start working on his own. “I was finally able to make enough money to cover our needs. Even though I struggled during the winter, my work during the summer would soon put me back on track,” he said.
While the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic affected millions of households across Turkey, both Syrian and Turkish people, Ibrahim was thankfully not as affected. “Work stopped for a couple of weeks in early March, but as soon as lockdowns eased, work picked up again,” he said thankfully.
Ibrahim dreams of going back to Syria where he can raise his children in their home town.
Despite his best efforts to stay in Syria, Issa had lost hope in finding peace and stability in the country and decided to flee to Turkey.
While Issa moved his family to Turkey in 2014, it was not until 2017 that he himself moved there as well. “I wanted to stay in the country, but I wanted to make sure my wife and kids were safe first,” he said. Back in Syria, Issa used to co-own a concrete block manufacturing business and worked in livestock on the side. In Turkey, he settled in Kilis, a city near the Syrian border in Turkey, where he started working in construction. Working on a daily stipend and having to rent most of the equipment, he struggled to meet all his family’s needs. “I have six young children whose needs are constantly growing,” he said.
To better support his family, Issa enrolled in our business management course and then received an in-kind grant that provided him with the equipment he needed. “Not having to rent the equipment has really changed my life,” he said. Today, Issa can take full jobs, and even hire some daily workers to help him, without having to worry about equipment and machinery.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many people in Turkey, both refugees and Turkish people, Issa was lucky enough to be one of the few who have not been as affected. “Other than the few weeks of the total lockdown, my work in construction has not stopped,” said Issa thankfully. Fast forward months after easing the lockdowns, Issa is back to having a busy week.
While Issa misses his home country, he does not believe Syria will ever be completely safe for them to return to. “Everyone dreams of going back home, but I do not think this will be in the books for most Syrians,” he said. Issa and his family are happy with the newly found stability in Turkey and he does not want to jeopardise the life he has built for his children. “I hope my children have a brighter present and future. I work hard to give them a better life,” he finished.