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News 16 Mar 17

Syrians Invest in Bosnia Despite War at Home

Syrians have continued to invest in businesses in Bosnia - despite the war raging in their home country - as have many others from the Gulf region.

Eleanor Rose
BIRN
Sarajevo
Destruction in Aleppo after an opposition forces attack in 2012. Photo: Wikimedia.

Syrian and Libyan investments have continued to flow into Bosnia despite vicious wars in both countries, data from Bosnia’s Central Bank shows.

Data obtained by BIRN also shows that the proportion of capital flowing into Bosnia from Gulf countries has soared, with 81 per cent of foreign direct investment, FDI, originating from the region in the first three-quarters of 2016.

In 2013, Syrians held 610,000 euros in direct foreign investments Bosnia. In 2014, the figure increased to 1.18 million and in 2015 it reached 1.74 million euros. 

Libyans invested 410,000 euros in Bosnia in 2014, with that figure increasing to 460,000 in 2015.

Syria has been embroiled in a destructive civil war since 2011, pitting President Bashar Al-Assad against a range of rebel factions, including Islamic State, ISIS. 

Libya dissolved into warfare in 2014 after the fall of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi left a power vacuum in which rival groups fought for dominance.

Bosnia's Central Bank told BIRN it could not give data prior to 2012 or for the whole of 2016.

An expert told BIRN that the Syrian trade with Bosnia had continued after the beginning of the war in two main ways.

Firstly, some Syrians who then lived or studied in Bosnia remained in the country, forming groups such as the Association of the Social Congress of Syrians, led by Sherif Hakimi. Some of them also put money into businesses in Bosnia, economic analyst Zlatko Hurtic told BIRN. 

Data from Bosnia’s Foreign Trade Chamber also show that textile imports from Syria continued throughout 2015, when 17 tons of textiles with a value of about 57,000 euros arrived in Bosnia. “Syria was one of the leading exporters of upholstery fabrics,” Hurtic said. 

“Thanks to the growth of the furniture industry in Bosnia, imports from Syria were rising. But, as far as I can see, it has slowed down now, as many of these factories were from the Aleppo region,” he added, referring to the strife-hit Syrian city.

Reports suggest that most factories in the Aleppo area were overrun by rebel warlords who ransacked the industrial facilities. Some factory owners were forced to pay large bribes to be allowed to continue working.

Pro-government forces loyal to Assad recaptured the city last year after a long siege and after fighting left tens of thousands dead.

No imports of textiles from Syria were recorded in 2016. Faresh Shehabi, head of the Aleppo Chamber of Industry, told the LA Times that November: “Now we’re operating at 10 per cent capacity.” 

Meanwhile, Foreign Trade Chamber data show that Bosnia exported about 300,000 euros' worth of wood and soap products to Syria.

Central Bank data also show that investments from countries in the Gulf accounted for just under 81 per cent of all FDI in Bosnia in the first three-quarters of 2016.

Some 33.2 million euros were invested in Bosnia by Gulf countries during that period compared with 30.3 million in the whole of 2015. 

A total of 10.3 million came from the United Arab Emirates, UAE, and 9.9 million from Saudi Arabia. 

Investments from Bahrain jumped from less than a million euros each year from 2013 to 2015 to 4.2 million euros in the first three-quarters of 2016. 

At the same time, investment in Bosnias from other parts of the world fell, meaning that the share of overall foreign direct investment in Bosnia held by the Gulf countries increased.

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