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Johanne Eva Desvages
Thursday 14 February 2019 Last update on Thursday, February 14, 2019 At 9:10 AM

Migration experts from Centre Emile Bernheim (Brussels), University of Brussels and the Macro Center for Political Economics, examined both the impact of Syrian refugees on wages and on unemployment rate in Host Middle Eastern Countries. Details by Ecomnews Med.


The scale of the refugees’ flows towards neighbouring countries is large. “Between 2011 and 2016 about 5.1 million Syrian have been externally displaced. Most of the displaced Syrians initially arrived to Middle Eastern countries. Turkey hosts more Syrian refugees than any other country with an estimated 3.2 million refugees which represents 3.5% of the country’s population. Lebanon absorbed about 1 million refugees, (20% of the local population) and Jordan absorbed 650,000 Syrian asylum seekers, which comprise 9% of its population”.

The restrictive policy in most Middle Eastern hosting countries made it difficult for Syrian refugees to integrate the local labour market, except in Lebanon. 

“Past studies about the impact of refugees on absorbing labour markets suggest that refugees have no significant impact while others argue that refugee influx causes a negative supply shock and is very likely to affect the lowest classes within a host country”.

In their recent FEMISE research (FEM43-06). Pr. Khalid Sekkat, (University of Brussels), Jean Lacroix (Centre Emile Bernheim), Itamar Gasala and Ron Leyzer (the Macro Center for Political Economics), directed by Dr. Roby Nathanson, uncovered that the Syrian refugee wave decreases the growth rate of real wages, but have no effect on unemployment rate. This is particularly true in Jordan where the relative number of refugees is high compared to the popoulation. 


Turkey : A very large black labour market in result to the severe restrictions imposed to Syrian refugees


In Turkey,  one of the noticeable results of the flows of refugees was the creation of a ‘black labour market’. “This applies in particular to construction, textile, and heavy manufacturing and agriculture sectors. Many Syrian refugees found seasonal job opportunities in agriculture. This has brought down the average daily wage particularly in some cities like Kilis (at proximity to Syrian border) where average daily rate decreased from 60 liras to 20 liras. 

In some regions the arrival of refugees has been accompanied with resistance among the local population, while in others they were seen as cheap labor force that could relief a burden.  To this effect, in 2013, two of the Turkish regions close to the Syrian border, Kilis and Gaziantep, were among the only regions that reported a decrease in unemployment rates.  Following more restriction on the employment of refugees, unemployment rates rose again in Gaziantep, by 1.9% . This data might be an evidence for the impact of the Syrian refugee wave on the local Turkish economy.

Turkey adopted a more comprehensive policy towards Syrian refugees only in 2016. The fact that many Syrian refugees were employed illegally doesn’t mean that there was no impact on the legal labor market”.


Lebanon : The only Middle Eastern country that allows participation of the Syrian refugees in the labor market


In Lebanon, the Syrian refugees work specially in the construction and agriculture sectors. According to recent data, 55% of the male Syrians and 6% of the female Syrians in the working ages are employed in Lebanon. 

“2% of the employed Syrians in Lebanon don’t have a formal contract of employment, and 56% of them are employed on a seasonally, weekly or daily basis. The average monthly salary of Syrian refugees is about $290, which is 65% of the Lebanese minimum wage.

In certain sectors the salary of low skilled employees decreased in about 60% since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, mainly due to the fact that Syrians are willing to work longer hours for a smaller salary compared to their Lebanese counterparts”.


“Many of the refugees are being separated from the Jordanian labour market”


While Jordan have established refugees camps, more than 80% of refugees are living outside those camps. Among those that are outside the camps only 22% of the male Syrian refugees and less of 1% of the females Syrian refugees at the working age were employed in 2015

Despite the concerns of many Jordanians that Syrian refugees would compete with them on jobs in the construction and retail sectors, it turned out that competition is rather with other foreign employees these sectors. The Jordanian official reports show that the percentage of Egyptians being employed in the country has decreased by 20% from 2010 to 2013.

It is to note that due to the strict and limiting policy implemented in Jordan, most Syrians that reside in the camps are not allowed to leave them legally without being deported back to Syria. This means many of the refugees are being separated from the Jordanian labor market”


“Syrian refugees are not numerous enough in the other countries to affect domestic wages”


In conclusion, the researchers have established that while Syrian refugees might have affected the average wages in some specific regions, their impact on raising national unemployment rate is not conclusive. 

Given this, four main policy recommendations can be drawn from the analysis :

  • recommend strengthening the existing trend of removing refugee-specific barriers to acess the host countries labour market
  • In addition, in countries with high minimum wage, temporary exceptions should be permitted in order to promote the employment of refugees.
  • Another important recommendation is to provide temporary migration opportunities in line with the labor market needs and address shortage of workers in some occupations, such as agriculture. A further investigation is needed based on each country’s needs.
  • Their last policy recommendation is to offer targeted temporary work opportunities and programs, as some European countries are already doing, both to local population that might be affected by the integration of refugees, and to the refugees themselves”.


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