ILO’s Guy Ryder: Syria refugees need our help – but so do the communities hosting them

Over six years into the Syria conflict, Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the local communities hosting them are finding it difficult to cope with the dire economic and labour market challenges brought about by the influx of vast numbers of refugees. ILO Director-General Guy Ryder visited Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley to meet first-hand some of those affected by the crisis.

Press release | 13 April 2017
BEQAA VALLEY, Lebanon (ILO News) The international response to the Syria refugee crisis must address the needs of local communities hosting the refugees alongside the needs of the refugees themselves, said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder during a visit to Lebanon.

“We need to make sure that when the ILO for example intervenes to provide market access for refugees, that we also have very much in our minds the needs of host communities, which are already suffering from frequently difficult labour market conditions and high levels of unemployment,” Ryder said during a visit to Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, where he met with Syrian refugees and representatives of local Lebanese host communities.

“This is, I think, the key to successful intervention,” he said.

Ryder was on a three-day visit to Lebanon – his first official visit to the country – where he witnessed first-hand how, more than six years into the conflict in neighbouring Syria, both the refugees and host communities have been struggling to cope with economic and labour market challenges brought about by the influx of huge numbers of refugees into already stretched local labour markets.

He was accompanied by ILO Regional Director for Arab States Ruba Jaradat and a number of ILO officials.

Ryder and his delegation met with mayors of local villages in the Beqaa Valley, which hosts many of the approximately 1.5 million refugees, including 1 million officially registered refugees.

He expressed the ILO’s understanding of the burden carried by Lebanese communities, and the strain placed on their already stretched labour market.

“We at the International Labour Organization understand that your communities and your municipalities face some very difficult realities. And these are realities which have been created by events and circumstances clearly beyond your control,” Ryder said.

“I think there’s a mixture of two feelings from them,” he said after the meeting. “One is this feeling of hospitality and of openness. But the second thing - and this is said very clearly – is that because of the numbers of people coming into these communities, and because of the difficult circumstances prevailing, tensions are rising, and more support is needed from the international community.”

Ryder and his delegation visited one of the nearby informal tented settlements, one of many across the country which house refugees, who now account for about a quarter of the total population in Lebanon.

We need to make sure that when the ILO for example intervenes to provide market access for refugees, that we also have very much in our minds the needs of host communities, which are already suffering from frequently difficult labour market conditions and high levels of unemployment."

Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General
He said conditions in the Beqaa settlements were particularly dire.

“Compared to other refugee camps I’ve been in in the region, conditions here are very tough indeed, and you see people who are in very, very difficult conditions,” he said following the visit. “There are many women on their own, whose husbands are not around any longer, bringing up children whose main source of income is UNHCR support with food. There are sporadic work opportunities but not many, and in conditions which are not what we would want them to be.”

“Clearly there is massive need for improvement inside the settlements, the conditions in which people are living,” he said.

Lebanon, already the region’s most densely populated country, has become the largest Arab host nation of Syria refugees, both in absolute terms and considering the limited size of its territory and its small population. Its already stretched labour market, limited creation of decent jobs and deteriorating labour standards, has been particularly hard hit by crisis as Syrian refugees seek work in order to survive.

Ryder stressed the need for the international community to provide more assistance to help mitigate the effects of the crisis on the political, social and economic stability of Lebanon and other host countries.

He emphasised the ILO’s continued commitment to working with regional governments, international donors, social partners, and other UN agencies to create jobs for all, and provide support in relieving pressure brought about by the crisis.

Employment Intensive Infrastructure Programme

The ILO is responding to the refugee crisis in Lebanon by promoting decent work opportunities for refugees and host communities. One ILO initiative is a recently launched Employment Intensive Investment Programme (EIIP), which will formally employ Lebanese and Syrian workers to build much-needed infrastructure projects. The project will be implemented jointly with the United Nations Development Programme, with funding from the German Development Bank, KfW.

“Our Office is working to help the Lebanese Government deal with the Syrian refugee crisis,” said ILO Regional Director for Arab States Ruba Jaradat. “One of the projects we initiated is a project for developing the infrastructure and creating employment, both for Syrian refugees and the host communities affected by the refugee crisis.”

“We will choose a number of locations, such as the one we are in today, which will be converted into a public garden,” she explained.

A similar ILO project is underway in Jordan, with both projects set to create just under 600,000 workdays for Syrian refugees and host communities in Jordan and Lebanon over the coming two years.

Combatting child Labour

Ryder also visited the ILO-supported Community Centre against Child Labour in the Beqaa town of Saadnayel. One of three first-of-their-kind centres in Lebanon, it provides a range of services to rehabilitate children withdrawn from child labour, as well as those at risk of engaging in child labour.

Since the onset of the Syrian refugee crisis in the country, poverty, a lack of jobs for adults and the refugee’s lack of the right to work has caused a sharp rise in the incidence of child labour, including some of its worst and most exploitative forms.

Within the framework of the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan 2017-2020, the ILO Regional Office for Arab States is implementing a response strategy to the Syria refugee crisis through various programmes focusing on livelihoods, employment creation and tackling child labour among Syria refugees and their host communities, while providing technical assistance to the Ministry of Labour.

Ryder’s visit to Lebanon encompassed meetings with President Michel Aoun, Minister of Labour Mohammad Kabbara, and trade union and employer organization representatives. His visit concluded with opening the ILO’s Arab Tripartite Future of Work Meeting in the capital Beirut.