Turkey's fast-growing hair transplant industry is soaking up Syrian refugees
Yet, while tourists in general have dwindled, Turkey has seen a spurt in medical tourism, especially tourism for hair transplants.
With hair transplant clinics springing up like mushrooms, this mini-economy is soaking up informal labour in the form of Syrian refugees.
Hair transplant tourism in numbers
According to Emin Çakmak, the Head of the Development Council of Health Tourism in Turkey, around 750,000 health tourists visited Turkey in 2016, and above 60,000 visit every year for hair transplants. An estimated 150-500 hair transplant surgeries are performed every week in Turkey.
Packaged deals for patients undergoing hair transplant
Hair transplant has become so popular in Turkey that clinics now offer packaged deals to tourists which include hotel bookings, private pick ups from and drops to the airport.
With tonnes of clinics present, and more cropping up, there is also intense price competition among these clinics with many willing to go to extreme measures to keep costs low.
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While hair transplants in the US and Europe cost around $25,000 per surgery, the price tag for hair transplant surgeries in Turkey range from $600 to $2000, making it a favourite for people looking for such surgeries.
Safety standards are lax in the industry
While there exist rules and regulations on the hair transplant industry, most of them are not observed.
For instance, despite legal requirements being present, most operations are performed by nurses and technicians rather than doctors.
Inspectors from Turkey's Health Ministry are bribed on a regular basis, and owing to insider information, clinics observe all rules and regulations when an inspection is on.
A majority of clients come from the Middle East
According to Bugra Ersin Murtezaoglu, the general manager of Natural Hair Turkey, around 90% of clients come from the Middle East as they are less perturbed by the political and security situation in Turkey as opposed to their European or North American counterparts.
Refugees are exploited in a bid to keep costs low
One way clinics keep costs low is by recruiting Syrian refugees who, due to their knowledge of Arabic, are often exploited by employers to attract new clients and handle logistics.
Refugees are often paid poverty-level base salaries with commissions on near impossible sales quotas.
Despite low wages and long hours, most refugees cannot take legal recourse as they lack official work permits.
Syrian refugees have no legal recourse
"Syrian refugees are generally employed in informal economy which means that they are not registered to the social security system and they cannot enjoy their basic rights and liberties," said Emre Eren Korkmaz, a researcher at the International Migration Institute.