Turkey: Syrian Refugees Will Not Be Granted Work Permits, Minister Says

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By Jenny David

Aug. 26—Syrian refugees will not be granted Turkish work permits because this would be unfair to unemployed Turks, Labor Minister Faruk Çelik told reporters Aug. 7.

“There cannot be a general measure to provide them with work permits because we already have our workforce,” Çelik said of the nearly 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. “We are trying to educate and train our unemployed so they can get jobs in Turkey,” he continued, adding that “it would be unfair to take away their jobs and give them to refugees.”

The Turkish government faces a 10 percent unemployment rate and a slowing economy and has repeatedly criticized Europe's reluctance to take in more refugees.

Demand for Unskilled Labor

Çelik noted that refugees can work within their own refugee communities, including in camps established by the government, and said the government is also examining how to deal with the problem of “informal” employment.

Some 200,000 Syrians were working in Turkey as of January 2015, according to a study by ORSAM (the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies) and TESEV (the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation), generally filling jobs locals do not want and meeting a demand for unskilled labor.

Nevertheless, Turks have complained of losing jobs to lower-paid refugees, and Turkish business groups and unions have urged the government to formalize working arrangements for Syrian refugees to protect them as well as the local workforce.

Interior Ministry Regulations Pave Way for Employment

Çelik's comments could indicate that new regulations submitted in July by the Interior Ministry to facilitate the issuance of work permits may not pass the Turkish cabinet.

Under the Interior Ministry's proposal, Syrian refugees would have to hold residency permits, be registered as employees and be insured in order to work. Their employment in fields such as health, education and engineering would require additional ministry approval, and they would be encouraged to fill an estimated 80,000 vacancies in part-time and seasonal jobs. Industrial areas would have quotas for refugee employment, and most companies would be allowed to hire refugees for no more than 10 percent of their workforce.

Workplaces would not be permitted to pay Syrian refugees less than minimum wage except in the agricultural sector, and those found to be employing refugees without work permits could be fined up to 10,000 Turkish lira ($3,800) per illegal worker.

An estimated 42 percent of all Syrian war refugees now live in Turkey, some 14 percent of them in refugee camps. The rest are scattered in cities throughout the country, including Istanbul and the border provinces.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jenny David in Jerusalem at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at rvollmar@bna.com

For more information on Turkish HR law and regulation, see the Turkey primer.