Syrian Refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon Can Add Value to Local Economies

For Release

December 13, 2018

Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon could better contribute to local economies if they were trained for middle-skill jobs and were able to relocate to areas with manufacturing firms that need trained workers, according to a new RAND Corporation report.

Refugees, as well as citizens in the three countries, would also benefit from increased job matching services, according to the study, which provides policy recommendations on how the countries—home to more than 5 million displaced Syrians—can help refugees find better employment while ensuring overall economic stability.

The report is based on surveys of 1,800 Syrian households and 450 private-sector firms, as well as 36 focus groups with Syrians and host country citizens. It provides key insights into what works and what doesn't in labor markets when countries accommodate large influxes of refugees.

While most Syrians wanted to work, many were not able to find jobs beyond low-wage employment, according to the survey. About 85 percent of Syrian men and 25 percent of Syrian women were working or willing to work. In Jordan, these numbers were 93 percent for men and 54 percent for women, and in Lebanon, 92 percent of men and 30 percent of women.

One barrier to finding skilled jobs is geographic mismatch: Most refugees in these countries do not live where the jobs are. Researchers recommend incentivizing Syrians to move within a country—similar to the way that European countries such as Germany and Sweden have done so.

“Our research shows that Syrian refugees are active economic contributors and if restrictions are eased, they can add even more value,” said Director of International Research Krishna B. Kumar, a senior economist and lead author of the report.

Other recommendations to bolster employment include expanding Turkish-language training for Syrians in Turkey, as well as improving their access to work permits and legal work.

“Ongoing humanitarian assistance is not enough to support these many refugees indefinitely,” said study co-author and senior policy researcher Shelly Culbertson, who has worked on several studies on refugees and displacement in the Middle East. “Refugees need the self-sufficiency that comes with jobs and the ability to contribute to the economies of their new host countries. Training and job matching are key to that.”

One encouraging finding was that despite tensions in these countries from hosting refugees, most Syrians said they were usually treated with respect in the workplace and not regularly discriminated against. Researchers also found more Syrian women are working now than before the war, with some who said they felt empowered by earning money for their families.

The Syrian Civil War displaced 60 percent of Syria's 23 million population. Most now reside in the Middle East, in particular Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Other refugees reside in Europe, Iraq and Egypt.

The report was funded by the Qatar Fund for Development.

“Qatar Fund's support of this project is intended to contribute to the existing literature and public knowledge about Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. We hope the findings from this report are useful to relevant national actors and international donors in devising better policies and aid interventions,” said Ali Al-Dabbagh, Deputy Director General for Planning at Qatar Fund for Development.

The research was undertaken within RAND Education & Labor, which conducts rigorous, objective research to help decisionmakers and practitioners find solutions to education and labor market challenges.

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