Syrians working 'informally for low pay' in Turkey

Syrian refugees in Turkey, including children like these photographed at the Akcakale crossing on June 16, 2015, receive temporary protected residency status that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation in a poorly paid informal jobs sector (AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic)
Fulya Ozerkan

Ankara (AFP) - Syrian refugees who have taken jobs in Turkey are employed almost exclusively on an informal basis in "low-quality, low-paid" work, the UN labour agency said on Thursday.

Hundreds of thousands of the 2.2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey who fled the civil war are in some kind of employment, but the International Labour Organization (ILO) said their status had to be improved.

"We can say almost all Syrians in Turkey are working informally in low-quality, low-paid jobs," Numan Ozcan, the director of the ILO office in Turkey, told AFP as the organisation presented a new report on the impact of Syrians on the Turkish labour market.

He said the temporary protection status granted to Syrian refugees in Turkey is not the same as a residency permit, meaning they cannot apply for a work permit to work legally.

He said only a tiny number of the Syrians in Turkey -- 6,800 -- had work permits as they had entered the country legally.

The ILO found that in the southern city of Sanliurfa -- where a quarter of the population is now Syrian -- 27 percent of the businesses surveyed employ Syrians and one third of them are earning below the minimum wage.

Ozcan said the fact Syrians were working informally and for low wages was negative both for the economy and the local labour market.

"It is leading to unfair competition between enterprises, and workers themselves are deprived of any protection."

He said the ILO was working with the Turkish government to produce new regulations on this issue.

A November report by the Turkish Confederation of Employer Associations (TISK) found that at least 300,000 Syrians are working in the country.

The number of "child labourers" among them is quite high, it said, adding that Syrian children below the age of 18 are more likely to find a job compared to adults especially in border regions.

"The state is still lacking a strategy for Syrians," Murat Erdogan, author of the TISK report and director of the Migration and Politics Research Centre at Ankara's Hacettepe University, told AFP.

He said Syrians should be seen as permanent residents.

"We are far from tent-and-blanket issues. Syrians need to be employed formally in the labour market."

- 'Children forced onto streets' -

Syrian children's school enrolment rate is closely linked to the levels of their parents' education and welfare and their own income, according to an ILO study on youngsters working on the streets in Ankara.

The primary concern for many Syrian refugees in Turkey is how to survive and parents will encourage their children to work rather than going to school, it said.

"We have seen many families saying they cannot send their children their school because they need their children to work to make a living for the family," Philippe Duamelle, Turkey representative for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), told AFP at one of the refugee camps near the Syrian border this week.

He said issues such as access to the labour market and decent properly paid jobs for Syrians need to be addressed.

"Syrian families want nothing else and nothing more than what any families around the world want," he said.

"They want to be able to make enough earnings to cover the needs of the family, send their children to school, access to medical health and able to live in safe and protective environment."