Members of the Syrian business community scattered around the world are ramping up their efforts to support the 5.1 million Syrian refugees who have fled the country.
Entrepreneurs, investors and business owners from the Syrian diaspora gathered in Germany last February as part of an event organized by the World Bank to set up a network to help address the Syrian refugee crisis and the pressing issue of Syrian reconstruction. They established the Syrian International Business Association (SIBA), which aims to boost refugee employment in countries like Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon by investing in host countries and creating job opportunities.
“The basic idea is that Syrian businessmen in the diaspora are fairly well established and successful, and we could galvanize all these talents and get them to help fellow Syrians wherever they are,” says SIBA chairman Samer Chamsi-Pasha. “The idea is to get Syrians to help Syrians.”
Currently the organization has about 200 members, according to Chamsi-Pasha, who expressed the hope that it will grow significantly in the coming years. “Effectively, this is going to be an umbrella organization and we are looking towards having membership in the thousands rather than the hundreds.”
We talked with Chamsi-Pasha about the Syrian diaspora business community, why they need an international association and how SIBA aims to help Syrian refugees.
News Deeply: How would you describe the Syrian diaspora business community?
Samer Chamsi-Pasha: Syrians are very entrepreneurial. They’ve been very successful in the communities where they ended up migrating to and integrated themselves well into the host communities, with Argentina and Brazil being prime examples. They’ve been hard-working, diligent people and they are overachievers.
I think the last wave of migration, because of the crisis in Syria, has taken a different angle altogether. Because here it drove masses of people out of Syria. Millions of people had to move either internally or externally, and that’s a huge number. That’s a very different type of migration we’re facing, compared to the usual migrations that we’d had during the 19th and 20th century.
News Deeply: How has the war impacted Syrian business people around the world and their relationship to one another?
Chamsi-Pasha: First of all, the sheer number of people leaving Syria within this short time frame has put a lot of strain on a lot issues. It has, of course, caused a lot of humanitarian issues. It also caused a lot of social issues in the host communities where they ended up. It’s overwhelming for the neighboring countries Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey in terms of absorbing them into these communities in a very short amount of time. The huge wave of refugees that came across to Europe was also a very big event on its own. It was unplanned, unforeseen, chaotic and bound to cause stresses. Host communities in various countries in the world were not prepared, not even the Syrians among them.
That changed the dynamic of how we want help these people as Syrians who had lived abroad before and who are trying to help. The only way to deal with it is to deal with it collectively rather than individually. That was one of the main reasons why SIBA was created. It’s a collective movement unifying the voice of the Syrian business community outside of Syria, to be able to be more effective in reaching decision makers and impacting the lives and the situation of Syrians abroad.
News Deeply: Why is it necessary to have an international business association for Syrians?
Chamsi-Pasha: The most important point about SIBA is that it is an idea whose time has come. Not only are there needs that have been manifested by Syrians themselves requiring some help and assistance. But also by Syrian businesses that need to have a common body to be represented on the world stage and to play a role in whatever concerns Syria. And by international governments that realize that there needs to be a body that is able to represent the Syrian diaspora business community, which could be very helpful in ultimately engaging with Syrian refugees and Syrians at home. Everybody understands that this is a very good body and idea to have. That’s why I feel it’s going to be very successful.
At a further stage in the future perhaps we can look at these people coming back to Syria and reintegrating into Syrian society if that’s what their wish is. Timing is critical and the timing needs to be right.
News Deeply: What does SIBA want to achieve and how?
Samer Chamsi-Pasha: The goal is to establish SIBA as a proper functioning international organization and reaching Syrians in the diaspora to become members. Then, to engage them by setting up local chapters in their communities.
Part of what we hope to be able to achieve, other than being a major focal point for members to be able to interact and to coordinate their work, is to have a meaningful dialogue with governments of the countries that have a huge concentration of Syrian refugees living there. By addressing their needs and requirements, local governments can help alleviate some of the hardships that refugees have to deal with. Or the governments can maybe address the refugees’ legal status, or give them job opportunities to better their life.
That’s where we see our main function. But at this point in time we’re still at the very basic point of constituting ourselves as a legal body.
News Deeply: What role do you wish the Syrian diaspora business community to play in the reconstruction of the country?
Chamsi-Pasha: I think they’ll be playing a very important role in the reconstruction of the country. They’re the ones who can bridge the gap between local knowledge and international knowledge. They’re the ones who can bridge the gap in terms of knowing the needs and the requirements of the country better than any foreigner would.
Most of the Syrians that we are talking to, if not all of them, have friends and family in Syria. They’ve never lost touch with Syria. So they’ll be much, much more effective in delivering quick solutions for reconstruction rather than going through a much more protracted situation, when you need a lot of studies to understand the lay of the land.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.