As of 2017, World Academy for Local Government and Democracy (WALD) has been carrying out the Social Cohesion, Social Protection, Access to Sources of Income and Licensing Project in cooperation with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). As per the Cooperation Protocols signed with 11 Municipalities of Istanbul (Pendik, Sancaktepe, Ümraniye, Maltepe, Kâğıthane, Sultangazi, Bağcılar, Gaziosmanpaşa, Küçükçekmece, Avcılar, Beylikdüzü Municipalities), WALD has launched Refugee Support Desks within the municipalities it is in cooperation with. The aim is to enable refugees to access information through reliable sources, facilitate to exercise their social rights, represent refugees in city councils of local government and ensure social cohesion between host community and refugees. 

During the coordination meetings conducted on a regular basis with local governments and public institutions and organizations in the cities where WALD operates, the following concern has been expressed: “First of all, refugees running unregistered businesses under small and medium sized enterprises create a large informal economy and thus cause tax loss. Secondly, those businesses that are not audited fall quite short of required standards, particularly the hygiene standards. And lastly, refugees running these unregistered businesses are not subject to mandatory expenses like tax-insurance-withholding tax. As a result, it provokes an angry response from the host community because of this unfair competition.” Therefore, in December 2018, licensing activities funded by UNHCR were initiated in Sultangazi District as the pilot region in cooperation with the local governments. These activities focused on licensing the unregistered businesses run by refugees.

In December 2018, 5 unregistered businesses in Sultangazi, the pilot district for the project, were granted with work permits and business licenses. In the light of our licensing activities in 2019, more than 800 businesses were visited in Sultangazi, Bağcılar, Gaziosmanpaşa and Kâğıthane districts, and 46 business owners were granted with work permits and Business Licenses. 

Licensing operations are conducted by 2 mobile teams in Istanbul, one in European side and one in Asian side. Each team consists of a social worker, an accountant and a translator.

License audit agencies of municipalities and directorate of municipal police identify some businesses that are working informally. Mobile teams, afterwards, visit these unregistered businesses together with the officials of relevant municipalities to inform the business owners about the project. Owners who are eligible for getting licenses are provided with information concerning the required documents.

Business owners who want to join our project and are eligible to obtain license are provided with tax openings and tax certificates by us. We complete their registration to the relevant professional chambers and their applications for work permit and Business Licenses. All related fees and expenses are covered from the project budget. 

In addition, we explain the licensed business owners about the legal obligations of being a tax payer both in Turkish and Arabic; all of our beneficiaries are also provided with written notifications. 

As for 2020, we anticipate that additional 30 unregistered businesses will be granted with licenses. In 2021, we will improve our Access to Sources of Income and Licensing Project activities in order to maintain our licensing operations in coordination with 11 district municipalities as per our Cooperation Protocols.