Yasser Al-Ahmad, 26, a Syrian young man, arrived in South Cyprus about five months ago, and although the conditions here seem “not encouraging” for him and other asylum seekers compared to rich European countries, the tourist island may be on a date soon with more waves of Syrian refugees. This time they flee from the hell of poverty, unemployment and lack of livelihood, after the previous motive was to escape from death, which has befallen the country since the start of the bloody conflict there in 2011.
“Cyprus is not the best option for refugees, and this seems logical given the small size of the island and its limited economic potential. Despite this, it is hundreds of times better than staying in Turkey or returning to Syria, which is in a disastrous economic situation,” Al Ahmad told Mena Research and Study Centre.
The young man was forced to leave Turkey, where he stayed for four years, due to high cost of living, and the growing racism, in addition to the exploitation by employers.
“I borrowed €2000 to come to Cyprus in a risky journey, while the cost would be double or triple the amount if I wanted to go to Germany or the Netherlands. I came here to work, my mother and my younger siblings have been living in Jarabulus since we were displaced from rural Damascus, and they need about 200 euros per month to cover the house rent and basic necessities. I will work hard to send this amount regularly,” Yaser says.
Regarding the reason for not returning to Syria after the hardships he faced in Turkey, Al-Ahmad believes that the option of emigration has become the only hope for most Syrians who dream of a stable life and a secure future. “Even if I go back to Syria, my daily income from working in construction would be enough only to buy bread and some vegetables. Those who did not die of shelling and bombs in Syria would die of hunger today,” al-Ahmad adds.
The economic collapse and deterioration of life that al-Ahmad spoke about can be seen through the intensification of the protests in Syrian, since the beginning of this year in the various regions. Syria is practically divided between three forces imposing their military and security control, as well as their economic “vision”. While Yasser was telling us his story, hundreds of demonstrators in the city of Assuwaydaa, which is under the control of the Syrian government, were reviving the chant of “people want the downfall of the regime”, in a new round of demonstrations denouncing the deterioration of living conditions and that the state is abandoning its responsibilities. This is happening amidst the government’s complete impotence to securing the needs of the people in terms of heating materials, electricity, and the rest of the basic services and commodities.
The same applies to the rest of regions in Syria, with difference of which party the protesters blame. In the north-east of the country, demonstrations against the Autonomous Administration and its military arm, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are almost non-stop, either to protest the poor living conditions, the absence of services, and rampant corruption, or to express rejection and stand against violations of forced conscription and arrests. This prompted the Autonomous Administration, in early March of this year, to create “riot control forces” in its areas of control.
As for north and northwest Syria, which is under the control of Turkey and the opposition factions, the protests are often taking place to denounce the deteriorating security situation, or to demand a reduction in the price of electricity and an increase in teachers’ salaries.
Syria has been suffering from a severe economic crisis for years due to the fierce war it went through. The crisis includes fuel, energy and bread, in addition to the collapse of the Syrian lira, which had catastrophic effects on all aspects of life in it.
An economist, who asked not to reveal his name, believes that the Syrian economy is going from bad to worse, and he attributed this to the control of Russia and Iran on the bulk of sovereign investments (oil, gas, phosphates, and electricity) the corruption, and the absence of a political solution, in addition the continuation of US and European sanctions on The Syrian regime, and its opposition to any economic and political rapprochement with the Syrian regime.
“There is no better evidence of the catastrophic conditions that Syrians suffer from today, than the power cuts for more than 20 hours a day, and the queues for bread and fuel, add to that the crowding at the passports departments where people are trying to escape reality,” the economist told MENA in a telephone conversation from his residence in Damascus.
In addition to economic and living reasons, thousands of young men in regime-controlled areas are forced to emigrate after reaching the age of 18 or after completing their university studies in order to avoid military conscription, which has become a nightmare for them, because of the risk of death in battles, or the possibility of keeping them for many years.
The same applies to northeastern Syria, where the compulsory conscription policy pursued by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has led hundreds of young men to flee from their areas, whether towards northern Iraq or towards Europe, while some are forced to leave their jobs and retreat to their homes to avoid arrest by patrols or military police, which exacerbates their living conditions.
In this context, Qasim H, a worker in a car repair shop in the city of Raqqa, said that he did not go to work two weeks ago for fear of being arrested by the “SDF” patrols, which exacerbates his already deteriorating economic situation as owning cars has become a luxury and a dream for the majority of Syrians.
He pointed out that many of the people he knew were taken for compulsory conscription, especially after the Turkish threats to invade the region, and he does not want to join the conscription as he is the only breadwinner for his family, nor does he want to be a fighter with any party, which puts him in front of only two options, either to go to northern Iraq or to opposition areas, and from there to Turkey.
As for the areas of the Syrian opposition, despite the relative calm experienced by the fighting fronts for about 3 years, and the factions that do not follow the policy of “compulsory conscription”, they are similar to the rest of the Syrian areas in terms of high cost of living, widespread poverty and unemployment among the majority of the 5 million. Almost half of the people residing there were displaced from the various Syrian governorates by Russia and the regime.
Husam al-Masalmeh, a Syrian nurse who was displaced from the countryside of Daraa and resides in al-Bab in the countryside of Aleppo, believes that “he and his family’s stay in the area is a temporary measure, and that migration has become a lifeline for Syrians,” and indicates that until recently he used to rule out migration, but there are many factors and reasons forced him to reconsider it; “The situation in northern Syria depends on regional and international understandings. These understandings may change at any time. What made me insist more was the recent Turkish statements about rapprochement with the regime, and the possibility of handing over the region to it. I fear for my life because I am wanted by the Syrian regime, and I lost two brothers by regime forces, so I see that Immigration is better for me and the future of my children.”
Poverty and unemployment
In order to realize the impact of the economic factor on the decision of Syrian youth, it is necessary to understand their living reality today, and the gateway to that is shedding light on the indicators of poverty and unemployment, income and spending.
The figures issued by the United Nations organizations and their main agencies agree that the incidence of poverty in Syria today exceeds 90 percent. As for unemployment, there are no official figures for it, but according to the World Bank, the unemployment rate in Syria has reached 9 percent, while in fact the figures are much larger.
In northwestern Syria, the “Syria Response Coordinators” organization confirms, in a report issued in mid-November, that the unemployment rate in northern Syria has reached 85 percent among the civilian population this year, which is an unprecedented rate in the region. She explained that one of the most important causes of unemployment is the absence of job opportunities, the lack of sufficient experience, poor training and national competencies, the lack of practical experience for most graduates, and the lack of follow-up and support from their places of graduation.
Turning to the areas controlled by the Assad regime, it does not seem that the situation is better in northern Syria, but the regime talks about percentages that do not exceed 30 percent, which is met with skepticism by local and international circles.
The Syrian government had gradually begun to lift subsidies on some items, since the middle of last year, when decisions followed to raise the prices of various goods and services, until it reached the decision to cancel subsidies issued in early February, which led to the impoverishment of a large segment of Syrians.
As for the areas under the control of the Autonomous Administration in northeastern Syria, the unemployment rate, according to the statistics of the Social Affairs and Labor Authority in the “administration,” is estimated at about 25 percent, but experts think that the rate is more than 80 percent.
Huge gap between income and spending
As for the level of income, it is relatively different between each region of government in Syria, as it is in the areas of the Syrian regime the worst ever, as the average salary of public sector employees is 130 thousand pounds (about 21 US dollars according to the exchange rate on the black market in early December) only Nothing else, but in the areas of the Autonomous Administration in northeastern Syria, it is considered much better than this, as the salary of the Autonomous Administration employees now (after an increase of about 40 percent stipulated in a decision on October 30) is about 370,000 Syrian pounds, or about $70. With the exception of the salaries of the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) and those working in the military wing (SDF), as they receive higher wages.
Wages in the Syrian opposition areas are in Turkish lira, the currency has been approved in the region since 2019, and range between 1,500-2,500 Turkish lira ($80-134) for employees of “government” departments after an increase approved in early December, while doctors’ salaries amount to about 8,500 Turkish liras (460 US dollars), and daily workers to about 750 Turkish liras (40 dollars), which varies according to the profession. As for the salaries of the private sector, the situation is different, as salaries are much better in the areas of the Autonomous Administration and the Syrian opposition, and may exceed $1,000, but remain in the areas of the Syrian regime, not more than $200.
In light of these numbers, economic estimates indicate that the cost of living for the Syrian family today is estimated at about 1.7 million per month (about 285 US dollars), with subsistence and without luxury.
In his interview with the MENA Observatory, the economist points out that the remittances of Syrians abroad have become a lifeline for those remaining inside Syria in the face of living crises and rising prices. With no solutions or breakthroughs on the horizon, the door remains wide open to more migration in the short term.
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