Employment for Syrians in Turkey a priority for SNC

Coalition wants to help highly-qualified refugees fill jobs that Turks do not want

Supporters of the Syrian opposition protest during a rally in Geneva on March 19th to commemorate the fifth year of the Syrian war. Photograph: Salvartore Di Nolfi/EPA

Supporters of the Syrian opposition protest during a rally in Geneva on March 19th to commemorate the fifth year of the Syrian war. Photograph: Salvartore Di Nolfi/EPA

 

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC), founded in mid-2011, has the backing of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the US and Europe. All fund its largely successful diplomatic activities and generally unsuccessful political efforts to build an opposition presence on the ground in northern Syria.

Other useful projects are having a more difficult time raising funds.

On the diplomatic front, the Istanbul-based umbrella grouping of many disparate factions and individuals has secured for itself the position of the “main” opposition organisation standing against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

However, the SNC appears to be faltering as far as undertaking practical projects that could not only provide a vision for Syria’s present and future, but also for finding solutions for refugees currently dwelling in Turkey.

During the ongoing UN-brokered talks in Geneva, the delegation, composed of members of the SNC, armed groups and other opposition factions, is backed up by more than half a dozen foreign public relations personnel and Syrian support staff.

Among the support staff is Salah Fares, SNC projects co-ordinator, who tells The Irish Times that his initial function was to establish a think tank. He says his team had drawn up a “detailed plan” for managing the current and post-war situations in Syria.

“The US said it would give us a budget and we submitted a proposal,” Fares says. “After eight months, the US withdrew. So we have a project on paper and no budget.”

His second task is to launch an effort, in co-operation with Turkey, to find employment for Syrian refugees. In addition to putting these people to work, the goal is to help Syrians in Turkey prepare for returning home and contributing to reconstruction and reconciliation – once the war ends.

Syrian refugees who settle in Germany, Sweden and further afield could find it more difficult to repatriate, Fares predicts.

This effort would seem to be exactly what is needed to prevent Syrian refugees from boarding fragile rubber rafts and making the perilous journey across the Aegean to Greek islands. There they risk being sent back to Turkey unless their applications for asylum are accepted.

The endeavour involves organising Syrians in Istanbul, where the SNC is based, to find employment for them in jobs that Turkish citizens do not take or where there are shortages of personnel.

“We have doctors, engineers, pharmacists, lawyers, teachers and workers who have no employment in fields where Turkey needs both specialists and labourers,” Fares says.

Turkey, he adds, does not know how to deal with these Syrians, and the Syrians don’t know how to proceed with Turkey.

“We need some small effort to organise socially, to get money, and secure the okay to work in Turkey. We tried to appeal to the US and Holland for aid. We have 10 to 15 different projects for different sectors of society.”

Fares cites the need for psychological support of children traumatised by the war and life as refugees. They have to be put in contact with professionals who can help them.

Need work

“So far, only a small number of people have been put to work.”

Fares says the exiles lack a system for finding employment for countrymen and women in Turkey. When they lived in Syria, Syrians simply fitted into the al-Assad regime’s well-established system for education, health and employment.

Now that they are outside Syria, he says, they “do not know how to set up a system and procedures”.

Partisan competition and divisions within the SNC complicate and hamper the realisation of the second potentially important project, which could serve the interests of Syrian refugees, Turkey, and European countries seeking to reduce the numbers of Syrians seeking asylum.

“We must forget party projects and think of the Syrian project,” Fares says.

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