“Step by step, we constructed our lives in patience. Nothing happens in one day” says Usame Natur while explaining how things have changed for them, in both one day and over time.
Usame, 27, and his family fled from Damascus, Syria, 10 years ago just after the conflict reached their door in 2011. At that time, he was only 17 years old and had just started to study business administration. They first went to Lebanon, then Jordan where they stayed for six months, thinking and hoping that the war would end soon so that they could go back to their home. However, this never happened.
As they were convinced that the situation would not change quickly, the Natur family decided to head to Turkey, İstanbul, where the Syrian population is highest in Turkey (with over 522,000 inhabitants). It seemed to be a good place to find employment and for firms and entrepreneurs like the Natur family, who require skilled and long-term workers.
Usame and his family tried their chance in the textile industry first, selling fabric mported from Syria to exporters or to small shop owners. As the Turkish market dynamics and the language were new for them, their family business did not last long. Meanwhile, Usame continued his studies in business administration in İstanbul Aydın University.
Patience pays offSoon after, Usame went for new opportunities in another sector. The idea was not new, though: “The textile sector was too competitive for us Syrians; and we were still trying to figure out how to do business, learn the language, and understand the payment methods… We could not survive there. Hence we made a fresh start with a new business in the medical equipment production sector, as my father was about to start such a business before leaving Syria”.
This is how GMD Group began to operate with 11 employees. Over the years, they expanded their business, received several necessary international certifications and now the company employs 45 Syrians and 20 Turkish employees. They produce 2,000 medical surgical sutures from raw materials per day and export their products to 22 countries from all over the world: They export to Libya, Morocco, Azerbaijan, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria… Usame never stops searching for more opportunities to export.
“Last year, we received an award from İstanbul Chemical Materials and Exporters Union (İstanbul Kimyevi Maddeler ve Mamülleri İhracatçıları Birliği) giving credit to the high volume of our exports” he says, thrilled and proud.
Usame feels at home in İstanbul, he explains, “I feel homesick whenever I am away from Istanbul. I left our country years ago, and İstanbul became my home in many senses. Home is not about passports, I feel I belong here”.
For Usame, Europe has never been an option. “We have similar cultures with Turkey. If you have good strategies, if you work hard enough, you are welcomed and people help you. And I want my children to grow up in a culture similar to ours”, he adds.
Staying afloat in pandemic timesThe ILO Office for Turkey supports companies like GMD Group through “The Transition to Formality Programme (Kayıtlı İstihdama Geniş Programı-KİGEP)”; a flagship programme implemented in close collaboration with the Social Security Institution (SSI). A year since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and 10 years since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, in Turkey, which is the country hosting the highest number of refugees for the 7th year in a row, out of 5.7 million Syrian refugees who fled abroad, 3.6 million live in Turkey, 2.1 million of them are estimated to be of working age. Hence, this support scheme for employers means a lot.
The incentive scheme under KİGEP includes administrative and financial support for employers to apply for work permits for their Syrian employees and to cover social security contributions for both Syrian and Turkish employees during a period of six months. It is implemented across 12 cities through project offices in SSI provincial directorates, with the help of tailored online platforms developed by SSI.
This support means a lot for companies to retain their workers and stay afloat during the pandemic. From the beginning of 2019 until February 2021, over 9,274 employees and 1,277 employers benefited from KİGEP, providing essential support to retain employment and create new jobs.
Designing pathways for decent work conditions for allBased on the increasing need and the positive results of the strong cooperation between the ILO and SSI, the KİGEP continues to promote decent work conditions for more employees. It will support 7,500 additional employees to access social security until the end of 2022. As a result, 112 million TL will be transferred to businesses through SSI to cover social security premiums to help create new registered jobs and to retain existing ones until the end of 2022.
KİGEP, the incentive scheme for employers who formally employ Turkish and Syrian workers started in 2019. It is implemented by the Social Security Institution and the ILO Office for Turkey in coordination with the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services (MoFLSS) Directorate of International Labour Force (DGILF). In 2020, it became KIGEP Plus and is currently financed by the Federal Republic of Germany through the KfW Development Bank and the U.S Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (USBPRM) and implemented as part of the projects “Promoting Decent Work for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish citizens” and “Decent Work Opportunities for Refugees and Host Communities in Turkey”.