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ILO study

Syrian refugees in Lebanon face harsh working conditions

An ILO assessment of Syrian refugee employment in Lebanon finds that low wages, high unemployment and lack of labour market regulation pose serious challenges to livelihoods for both residents and refugees in host communities.

News | 02 April 2014
BEIRUT (ILO News) – Almost a third of Syrian refugees in Lebanon's labour market are unemployed, said the International Labour Organization in a study entitled “Assessment of the Impact of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon and their Employment Profile”.

The report says that most Syrian refugees working in Lebanon also suffer from low wages and harsh working conditions. It also points to refugees' lack of skills and education.

“Both Syrian refugees and Lebanese residents are suffering from the effects of an unregulated labour market,” says Mary Kawar, Senior Employment Specialist at the ILO Regional Office for the Arab States (ROAS). “The large supply of low-wage Syrian workers causes further deregulation and expands informal employment resulting in downward pressures on wages and the deterioration of working conditions. In turn, this negatively affects Lebanese host communities and refugees who are both increasingly unable to live in dignity or maintain sufficient access to livelihoods.”

The ILO assessment found that Syrian workers in Lebanon earned substantially less than their Lebanese counterparts. The report consisted of face-to-face interviews as well as semi-structured questionnaires with some 2,000 individuals. Average monthly income for a Syrian refugee in Lebanon is almost 40 per cent less than the minimum wage of 675,000 Lebanese Pounds (US$448).

The focus should be on creating decent work opportunities through actions that regulate informal labour."
F. Hagemann, ILO ROAS
Female Syrian refugees were particularly vulnerable to unemployment. Over two thirds of women looking for work in Lebanon were unable to find a job. Only two out of 10 working refugees were female, earning about 40 per cent less on average than their male counterparts.

Informal work dominates Syrian refugee employment with nine out of 10 Syrian refugees in Lebanon employed without a formal contract. One out of two refugee workers in Lebanon also reported suffering from back and joint pain or severe fatigue as well as extreme cold or heat. Almost two-thirds of Syrian refugees reported exposure to dust and fumes in the workplace.

“This report reveals that the response to the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon needs to take on a holistic and comprehensive approach which addresses Lebanon’s pre-existing labour market challenges and balances the humanitarian support with the developmental needs of Lebanon’s host communities,” says Frank Hagemann, Deputy Regional Director of the ILO ROAS. “The focus should be on creating decent work opportunities through actions that regulate informal labour, protect minimum wages, promote safety at work, provide social protection and encourage sustainable enterprise development.”

Key figures from the report:
  • 30 per cent: Unemployment rate of Syrian refugees active in Lebanon’s labour market.
  • 68 per cent: Unemployment rate among Syrian refugee women active in Lebanon’s labour market.
  • 88 per cent: Syrian refugees in Lebanon employed in either unskilled or semi-skilled jobs.
  • 418,000 LBP (US$277): Average monthly income for a Syrian refugee worker, as opposed to Lebanon’s minimum wage of 675,000 LBP (US$448).
  • 432,000 LBP (US$287): Average monthly income for a male Syrian refugee worker.
  • 248,000 LBP (US$165): Average monthly income for a female Syrian refugee worker.
  • 92 per cent: Syrian refugees in Lebanon working without a formal contract.
  • 56 per cent: Syrian refugee workers in Lebanon employed on a seasonal, weekly or daily basis.
  • 74 days: The average time a Syrian refugee worker requires to find employment.
For more information, please contact:
Reham Rached, Communications Assistant, ILO Regional Office for Arab States, Email:, Telephone: +961-1-752400 (Ext. 108)