If you interview pedestrians in any major city of Turkey, asking what they think about unemployment, you will hear this sentence frequently: “Syrians took our jobs, and left us unemployed”. 

According to a 2020 report of the International Labour Organization, Syrian refugees make up 4.4% of the total population in Turkey. This number creates a big impact on the labour force and unemployment rates. A considerable number of Syrian refugees work in low and semi-skilled occupations due to a lack of education, and/or informality of the industries such as textile manufactures and construction. Most of these sectors provide a daily wage rather than a regular and stable monthly salary.

One may ask, but why do Turkish people accuse Syrians of stealing their jobs? Well, the answer is both very straightforward and complex. Turkish employers, especially in the manufacturing and construction industries, tend to employ the Syrian labour force due to many unethical reasons. Firstly, Syrian refugees are more likely to accept payment and salaries below the average salary rate. Therefore, financially it is better to employ Syrian refugees for Turkish employers. Additionally, due to their more unstable and tricky living conditions in Turkey, they are more likely to accept conditions that Turkish employees would not accept. That is why it is easier for Turkish employers to threaten and scare Syrian employees. It is a known fact that Syrian employees commonly experience mobbing and racism. Moreover, Syrian refugees need to have a work permit to be employed legally, but unfortunately, not everyone has a legal work permit. Unfortunately, this situation causes an illegal and unrecorded labour force, which is once again more preferable for most employers as they do not have to pay for social security insurance or taxes for their Syrian employees. When these conditions are considered, it is also obvious that Syrian refugees tend to work for longer hours with less payment. Of course, all these create an abusive working environment for Syrian refugees. 

Syrian refugee men work as day laborers at a textile workshop in Istanbul. REUTERS/Cansu Alkaya

However, in the last two years, things started to change for the better. These improvements can be related to many things, but the increasing number of Syrians granted Turkish citizenship or legal work permits are among the most dominant ones. Some employers in Bursa, a city with a high number of factories and construction industry, have started to complain about Syrian refugees stating that ‘now they want rights’. It turns out that Syrian employees created a WhatsApp group in order to communicate and unite with each other. Now they do not accept to work for less than the normal wages of that industry. Moreover, if a Syrian refugee is fired, other Syrian employees have started to protest and challenge this decision and stopped working. This new situation creates unity and solidarity among Syrian refugees. Yet Turkish employers state that previously they were genuinely happy with Syrian employees but now they are not easy to manage and control. 

Recently a Syrian employee was fired from his factory on the grounds of being a union member. The employer claims that he was suggesting his friends being union members, and fighting for their rights. After a decade of being displaced, and adjusting to a new culture, it looks like Syrian refugees are more likely to be aware of their rights and owning those rights. 


Syrian Refugees in the Turkish Labour Market, International Labour Organization, (February 9, 2020)

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