Syrian refugee crisis

High-level policy meeting calls for reversal of negative labour market impacts of Syrian refugee crisis on host nations

High-level representatives from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt have gathered under the banner of the ILO to exchange experiences and formulate sustainable policies and programmes that respond to the labour market impacts of the Syrian refugee crisis.

News | 30 July 2015
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Nadia Bseiso / ILO
An ILO-sponsored regional meeting with high-level representatives from five countries hosting Syrian refugees concluded on Wednesday (July 29) with calls to counter negative labour market impacts stemming from the on-going crisis.

Representatives at the meeting also called for developing policies and programmes to tackle labour market issues stemming from the Syrian refugee crisis in a manner that increases economic output and productivity across host nation economies.

While acknowledging the dire humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees, representatives called on the international donor community to increase spending on livelihood programmes and place greater focus on areas such as child labour, the informal economy, labour inspection, social protection, the institutional capacities of labour ministries and local governance structures in host communities.

The two-day meeting took place in Istanbul, Turkey, with high-ranking officials from Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Participants reviewed the effects of the massive refugee influx on national and local labour markets, and exchanged experiences on response mechanisms in host communities. They discussed how integrating Syrian refugees into formal labour markets can reverse negative outcomes such as low overall employment productivity, child labour and exploitation in the workplace.

“As the Syrian refugee crisis enters its fifth year, the international community knows full well that humanitarian action alone cannot provide the kind of response required to sustain labour markets and stave off rising unemployment in host communities,” said Frank Hagemann, Acting Regional Director of the ILO in the Arab States. “This is why ILO has facilitated policy dialogue among key players in all of the countries struggling to address the influx of Syrian refugees into local labour markets.”

According to the UNHCR, as of mid-July 2015 a total of around 4 million registered refugees resided in the five countries in attendance at the meeting. The ILO estimates that labour force participation rates among adult Syrian refugees range from between 10 to 20 per cent for women to around 50 to 70 per cent for men in different population segments across host nations.

“Countries neighbouring Syria have indeed upheld their international obligations to host refugees fleeing the conflict. Yet the difficulties surrounding the employment of Syrians has created conditions where they are often employed in the informal economy,” said Rie Vejs-Kjeldgaard, Deputy Regional Director of the ILO in Europe and South Asia. “The challenges of livelihood and employment for the Syrians have created conditions where refugees are employed outside the law, which causes a deterioration in working conditions and exploitation on a large scale.”

Jordan’s Minister of Labour Nidal Katamine led the country’s delegation to the conference. Representatives from the ministry presented their national refugee crisis response plans which seek to address the employment needs of refugees and host community residents alike. Jordan’s capital Amman and its Northern governorates of Marfaq and Irbid host around three-quarters of some 629,000 Syrian registered refugees, around 10 percent of the native population.

"This regional policy dialogue event finally gets the critical issue of employment and labour markets on the political agenda,” said Minister Nidal Katamine. “We want to see follow-up now at the national level to help us move to focused strategic implementation.”

Government representatives from Lebanon highlighted challenges and responses related to the pre-existing fragility of the labour market as well as the impact of hosting the highest number of refugees per capita. Lebanon presently hosts around 1.2 million registered refugees, equivalent to some 25 per cent of its native population.

"This regional dialogue constitutes a positive first step to affect an exchange of experiences among those most affected by the crisis,” said Hala el-Helou, Advisor to the Minister of Social Affairs in Lebanon on humanitarian and international affairs. “Our hope is for this exchange to persist based on a shift from a humanitarian approach and mentality to a developmental which increases effective investment in host nations while creating create employment opportunities for host communities and, ultimately, refugees."

Government representatives from Turkey also illustrated the country’s efforts to take nearly 2 million Syrian people into the scope of temporary protection regime which includes access to employment.

“Our efforts to enable the Syrian people to access Turkey’s labour market are ongoing,” said Nurcan Önder, Director General of Labour at Turkey’s Ministry of Labour and Social Security. “Our priorities are to provide employment for Syrians, protect the local jobs and prevent informal labour. To do this, we consult with workers’ and employers’ organizations in order to reach a consensus acceptable to the public.”

Mary Kawar, Senior Employment Specialist at the ILO Regional Office for Arab States, said: “The tremendous labour market impacts of the refugee crisis demand holistic approaches to strategically manage labour markets. That will require bold steps by policy makers to manage unregulated refugee labour in a manner which complements local competitive advantages, fills pre-crisis labour shortages, combats child labour and prevents exploitation in the workplace.”

This news article was edited on July 31, 2015 to more accurately reflect the scope of the Turkish response to the Syrian refugee crisis.