Afghan refugee entrepreneurs thrive in Turkey

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Expert Afghan jeweler Khalil Nuri poses for a picture in his shop at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, on April 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Hadi Ekhlas, engraver, poses for a picture in his workshop at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, on April 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Hadi Ekhlas, engraver, carves a stone with a drill on April 11, 2019 at his workshop in the Grand Bazaar, in Istanbul. (AFP)
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Hadi Ekhlas, engraver, holds one of his work on his hand at his workshop at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, on April 11, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 13 May 2019
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Afghan refugee entrepreneurs thrive in Turkey

  • 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

BEYLIKDUZU, Turkey: When Afghan businessman Hajji Yakup Burhan fled the violence of his home country 30 years ago, he brought with him his family — and all his money.
He headed to Saudi Arabia, where he opened a restaurant but, as refugees, his children had difficulty getting into a school. Then he moved to the United Arab Emirates, but Dubai’s costs seemed impossible.
So, two years ago, he moved to Turkey and opened a restaurant in Istanbul’s Esenyurt neighborhood, taking advantage of the country’s relatively open business environment for refugees.
“I have 15 people working for me in this restaurant. They are Afghans, Iranians and Turks.
“I have invested about $120,000 (107,000 euros) in this restaurant so far,” Burhan, 52, told AFP at his Afghan Kebab establishment.
“Over 60 percent of our customers are Afghans living here. The rest are Arabs, Iranians and Turks,” he said.
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.
In turn, Turkey offers refugees simplified administrative procedures for setting up a new business.
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.
Some people in Turkey view refugees as a burden, but a different picture emerges in Burhan’s bustling Istanbul suburb, where refugees like him have made significant investment in the Turkish economy.

Inside Burhan’s restaurant, a TV blares Afghan channels showing Turkish soap operas over the hum of customers eating the popular Afghan dish Qabeli Palaw — rice with lamb meat and mixed with caramelized carrots, raisins and almond slivers.
“We are the only Afghan restaurant in this neighborhood for now,” he told AFP, sitting cross-legged on a mattress, sipping green tea.
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.
It sparked an 82-percent increase in foreigners buying real estate in the first quarter of this year, the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) said.
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.
Mehmet Yasin Hamidi, an Afghan who runs the Royalist real-estate agency in Beylikduzu, on Istanbul’s outskirts, told AFP that their sales of homes had doubled this year compared to the same period last year.
“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.”

Construction of new housing has exploded in Beylikduzu in recent years to meet a growing demand for real estate investment by foreigners.
The Association of Housing Developers and Investors says that foreigners bought $4.6 billion of Turkish property in 2018 and the figure is expected to jump to $10 billion this year.
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, an engraver from Afghanistan’s Hazara ethnic group, left the war-torn nation eight years ago. He first went to neighboring Pakistan to sell his skills.
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.”


Weinstein in search of a lawyer as trial approaches

Updated 19 June 2019
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Weinstein in search of a lawyer as trial approaches

  • He is accused of harassment by more than 80 women
  • Weinstein’s first lawyer withdrew from the case in January

NEW YORK: The main lawyer for Harvey Weinstein has asked a judge to be removed from the case, leaving the disgraced movie mogul without counsel as his sexual assault trial approaches in September.
Weinstein has been charged over the alleged assaults of two women — a rape in 2013 and an incident of forced oral sex in 2006. He faces life in prison if convicted, and is also accused of sexual misconduct with dozens of other women.
Weinstein’s first lawyer, Benjamin Braufman, withdrew in January after which Weinstein hired two other high-profile attorneys, Ronald Sullivan and Jose Baez.
Sullivan, who also teaches at Harvard, pulled out in May after coming under fierce criticism on campus for defending the man seen as giving rise to the #MeToo movement.
Once one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, Weinstein has been accused of harassment and assault by more than 80 women, including stars such as Angelina Jolie and Ashley Judd.
Then last week Baez asked to withdraw from the case, New York news outlets reported. He did so in a letter to State Supreme Court Justice James Burke, who is overseeing the case.
“First, Mr. Weinstein has engaged in behavior that makes this representation unreasonably difficult to carry out effectively and has insisted upon taking actions with which I have fundamental disagreements,” Baez wrote.
“For example, he has engaged outside counsel to communicate with myself and my co-counsel and has decided to have another attorney threaten legal action against this firm,” Baez said, adding that since May 15 or earlier Weinstein has known that Baez probably could not stay with the case.
Neither Baez, nor a spokesman for Weinstein nor the Manhattan prosecutor’s office responded to AFP’s requests for comment.
No hearing is scheduled until September 9, when jury selection is scheduled to begin in a trial that promises to be a media sensation.
It is not clear if the trial might be postponed because of Weinstein’s lawyer problems.