Afghan refugee entrepreneurs thrive in Turkey - GulfToday

Afghan refugee entrepreneurs thrive in Turkey

Afghan-Turkey-1

Expert Afghan jeweler Khalil Nuri in his shop in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Ozan Kose/AFP

When Afghan businessman Haji Yakup Burhan fled the violence of his home country 30 years ago, he brought with him his family and all his money.

He moved to Turkey and opened a restaurant in Istanbul's Esenyurt neighbourhood, taking advantage of the country's relatively open business environment for refugees.

"Over 60 percent of our customers are Afghans living here. The rest are Arabs, Iranians and Turks," he said.

"People cannot protect their lives and money in Afghanistan,

Afghan refugee entrepreneurs appear to be increasingly finding success in Turkey, where they bring to the local economy, not only their savings, but sought-after know-how, whether in restaurants, commerce or skilled crafts and specialities.

Turkey hosts nearly four million refugees, with Syrians making up the largest group, but Afghans number more than 145,000, according to Amnesty International figures released last year.

Citizenship investment

To attract more investment at a time when the Turkish economy was struggling last year, the government in September slashed from $1 million to $250,000 the threshold at which Turkish citizenship is offered to foreigners buying property.

Afghans likely account for a small percentage of this hike precise figures are unavailable but not all those fleeing the war-ravaged country are destitute.

"People cannot protect their lives and money in Afghanistan," Hamidi, who has lots of Afghans among his clients, said.

"If you have money, you or your children could get kidnapped. The businessmen are threatened there. That is why they bring their money here."

Rare skills

Many refugees arriving in Turkey bring with them diverse skills and experience that allow them to make a contribution to the country's workforce.

Hadi Ekhlas, left the war-torn nation eight years ago. He first went to neighbouring Pakistan to sell his skills.

Afghan-Turkey-8An Afghan waiteress checks her phone at an Afghan Kebab restaurant. Ozan Kose/AFP

He then moved to Turkey, where he now engraves Islamic and Ottoman scripts on gemstone rings and semi-precious stones a skill he learned from his grandfather in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, one of the world's oldest covered markets.

"In the past, some Turkish traders would import stones with engravings from other countries, but now I am making them here and taking orders," Ekhlas told AFP.

Ekhlas has a Turkish partner, who helps him with marketing, and runs one of the 42 Afghan shops in the Grand Bazaar.

"I plan to expand my business in the near future. I'd also like to teach my skills to other Turks here," he said.

In another corner of the Grand Bazaar, Khalil Nuri, an expert Afghan jeweller, sells rings, necklaces, pendants just about anything that can be found in Kabul's many curiosity shops.

"I am a jeweller and an expert in handicrafts and I wanted to continue my profession here," said Nuri, who fled Afghanistan and has been doing business for the past 12 years in Istanbul.

Meanwhile, Burhan said that he hoped his business continued to do well "because there are a lot of Afghans living here".

"There are also people who want to give the taste of Afghan cuisine a try."

Agence France-Presse