Turkey faces prospect of Syrian refugee wave amid currency crisis
Al Jazeera: When Syrians first started trickling in through the border, fleeing the flaring conflict, residents of the Turkish border town of Reyhanli in Hatay province welcomed them.
“We are all human beings and we are Muslim, so it is our duty to help them,” said 47-year-old Coskun Kaya, sitting in the sports cafe he runs on the outskirts of the city.
The tens of thousands of Syrians who settled in Reyhanli brought their savings with them and started spending on rent, property and food, which boosted the local economy.
Some opened businesses, others – mostly the poor – started working in the local agricultural sector.
Kaya’s small business also picked up, as Syrian youth started coming to his cafe to play football on the small artificial turf pitches he rents out.
“I’d say [the refugees], more or less, affected the economy in a positive way,” he says.
But seven years into the Syrian conflict, the effect of this initial boost to the local economy has worn off and local businesses are now suffering from the ongoing currency crisis in Turkey.
Since the beginning of the year, the Turkish lira has lost 40 percent of its value to the dollar, making foreign debt payments more difficult and forcing the central bank to raise interest rates to stabilise the slumping local currency. Amid rising anxiety about the future of the economy, Turkey’s border areas are also facing the prospect of another major influx of refugees.
The Syrian government and its allies have amassed troops and weaponry in northwest Syria in preparation for an offensive on Idlib province, the Syrian armed opposition’s last stronghold, which borders Turkey’s Hatay province.
Kaya admits that if more Syrians flee the war to Reyhanli, they might not get a warm welcome and their presence would exacerbate already existing infrastructural issues and social tensions because of overpopulation.
In Antakya, the capital of Hatay province, Nader, a 45-year-old father of three, is also anxious about more Syrians fleeing the war to Turkey.
“Of course, we’re afraid. As Turkish citizens, we ourselves are having trouble affording a proper life,” he says.