Syrian Refugees

ILO's Refugee Response


Highest number of refugees in the world hosted by Turkey

Number of Syrian refugees under temporary protection in Turkey, as released by the Ministry of Interior Directorate General of Migration Management on 2 August 2018
Turkey hosts the highest number of refugees in the world. As such, it faces the challenge of integrating more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, including 2.1 million of working age. Around one million Syrian refugees are estimated to be working in Turkey. In addition to that, in 2017, more than 112,000 non-Syrian refugees – predominately from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran – applied for international protection in Turkey.

Owing to the prolonged stay of refugees in Turkey, the government has adopted a temporary protection framework, which focuses on strengthening the resilience of Syrian refugees and members of host communities. As such, the innovative Regulation on Provision of Work Permits for People under Temporary Protection, January 2016 allows officially registered refugees under temporary protection to apply for formal work permits. Non-Syrian refugees can apply for a work permit six months after lodging an application for international protection.

Number of non-Syrian refugees that applied for international protection in Turkey, as released by the Ministry of Interior Directorate General of Migration Management on 19 June 2018
The international community supports the government’s efforts through the Turkey Country Chapter of the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan in response to the Syria Conflict (3RP) 2018-2019, which has consistently stood out for its strong national ownership and leadership. The 3RP combines a humanitarian response focused on alleviating the suffering of the most vulnerable, addressing basic needs and preventing large numbers of refugees from falling deeper into poverty, with longer term interventions bolstering the resilience of refugee and host communities, while also capacitating national systems.


Informality impacting working conditions and leading to social tensions

According to various labour market studies, including by the ILO, Syrian refugees are mostly employed informally in low-skilled jobs such as seasonal agricultural work, construction, manufacturing and textiles. They work long hours in unsafe conditions, receiving below minimum wage rates, or even not being paid at all. On-going research on the socio-economic situation of non-Syrian refugees indicates that, in a similar vein, they also mostly work informally in low-skilled occupations, however, sectors and occupations differ according to nationality and ethnic group.

Participant of a vocational training at Harran Family Support Centre
The issue of informality continues to be a major concern for government and social partners alike as this creates competitive advantage for those who hire refugees informally. This has a knock-on effect creating downward pressure on wages and working conditions for all workers, including Turkish nationals, potentially leading to social tensions. There is also growing evidence of displacement of Turkish workers, particularly low-skilled, low-educated female Turkish workers in the informal economy. This situation, compounded by the language barrier, has created major obstacles to refugees entering the formal labour market and has also created a strong enabling environment for child labour, including its worst forms, among refugee children.


Concerted efforts by the 3RP partners

Given these challenges, the ILO and other 3RP partners increasingly focus on supporting refugees’ and host communities’ self-reliance, notably through actual job creation and support on job placements. However, partners act in a difficult economic environment: The unemployment rate in the formal sector reached 9.4 per cent (3.08 million unemployed) by April 2018 and South East provinces are particularly affected, which were already less developed before the arrival of refugees. The World Bank estimates that despite an economic growth over 4 per cent for the next few years, the net job creation of formal firms is now down to zero.

The ILO Programme of Support guiding the Refugee Response in Turkey

Visit to a factory in Mersin that employs Syrian and Turkish workers with the support of the employer incentive scheme provided by ILO
To contribute to the 3RP targets and to guide its Refugee Response projects in response to the refugee crisis, the ILO has adopted a five-year (2017-2021) comprehensive, holistic and integrated programme of support aimed at strengthening the labour market and business development environment through the stimulation of decent work opportunities, inclusive socio-economic growth and the reinforcement of governance systems and structures.

The programme builds on ILO interventions supporting Syrian refugees in Turkey since 2015, and since 2017 also guides interventions supporting non-Syrian refugees, promoting comprehensive short- and medium-term employment-rich measures to be implemented within the framework of Turkey’s overall response and the 3RP, and consisting of the following three pillars:

1. Increase the availability of a skilled, competent and productive labour supply to facilitate access to decent work for Syrian refugees and Turkish host communities


2. Support local economic development in specific sectors and geographic locations to stimulate job creation and entrepreneurship opportunities for Syrian refugees and Turkish host communities


 3. Provide support to strengthen labour market governance institutions and mechanisms to assist Turkey in implementing inclusive development strategies.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder visits the Harran Family Support Centre

Cross-cutting issues:

  • Research
  • Knowledge-sharing
  • Awareness-raising
  • Advocacy


The ILO Office for Turkey is working in close coordination and collaboration with a wide range of public institutions and social partners at central and local levels. To implement targeted project activities, the ILO collaborates with:

  • The Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Affairs, including the DG International Labour Force, the Social Security Institution, Employment Agency İŞKUR, and the Centre for Labour and Social Security Training and Research (ÇASGEM);
  • The Vocational Qualifications Authority (VQA);
  • The DG for Migration Management of the Ministry of Interior;
  • The Ministry of National Education, including the DG Lifelong Learning and the DG Vocational and Technical Education;
  • The South-Eastern Anatolia Project Regional Development Administration (GAP RDA);
  • The Adana, Mersin and Gaziantep Chambers of Commerce and Industry;
  • The Bursa, Adana, Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa Chambers of Artisans and Craftsmen;
  • The Eastern Mediterranean Development Agency;
  • The Promotion of Vocational Training and Small Industry (MEKSA) Foundation;
  • Training institutions as well as municipalities dealing with Syrian refugees in the labour market, such as Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality;
  • Employers’ and workers’ confederations.

Further the ILO also partners with:

  • UN agencies, including IOM and UNWomen;
  • NGOs, including The Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM).

In the context of the Livelihoods Working Group of the 3RP, the ILO collaborates with other UN agencies and NGOs in Turkey and through the Livelihoods Partner Group, the ILO is further collaborating with international partners not part of the 3RP, such as GIZ, KfW and the World Bank.

Participant of a vocational training at Gaziantep Chamber of Artisans and Craftsmen Training Center

Achievements since 2015

1. Building skills in line with labour market needs
•Enhanced service provision capacities of training and community centres;
•Provision of vocational training, Turkish language classes and basic labour market skills training;
•Development of a model for recognition of prior learning of refugees;
•Development of a tailor-made occupational safety and health training module for refugees;
•Awareness raised on relevant legislation, labour rights and the importance of formal work.

In 2017:

Participant of a sewing training at Adana MEKSA

⇒5,971 Syrian refugees and host communities benefited from vocational training, including entrepreneurship training, basic labour market skills and language courses

⇒Service provision capacity of 13 training and community centres improved

2. Supporting job creation
•Close cooperation with employers to inform on work permit application procedures and to provide incentives to hire refugees formally (coverage of work permit fees and social security contributions);
•Exploring potentials for job creation, by for example, conducting value chain analyses;
•Support to refugee cooperatives by identifying sectors for economic activities, providing legal assistance as well as business advisory support and orientation on cooperative management.

A factory in Mersin that employs Syrian and Turkish workers

In 2017:
⇒89 Syrian SMEs trained on trade and labour law
⇒First Syrian-Turkish women cooperative established
Pilot incentive scheme to support formal employment implemented  

3. Supporting Labour Market Governance
•Capacity-building of government institutions, specifically DG International Labour Force of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Employment Agency, on refugees’ access to the labour market and on fair and effective labour migration governance;
•Establishment of one-stop shops in cooperation with chambers to provide integrated employment and guidance services both in Turkish and Arabic;
•Establishment of the first women-only center, which is a one-stop shop for refugee and local women, guiding them towards livelihoods opportunities and providing basic skills and vocational and technical training courses.
In 2017:
Participants with their certificates after participating in a training on Fair and Effective Governance of Labour Migration
⇒300 staff from tripartite partners have been trained