Turkey should create jobs for Syrian refugees, not send them home - analysis

Turkey should be finding and creating jobs for Syrian refugees, instead of returning them to their still-violent homeland, said an analysis for the Brookings Institution. 

In the last few months, polls, electoral results and sporadic incidents of violence have highlighted the increasing pressure on Turkey to send its 3.6 million Syrian refugees back home, Kemal Kirişci, Europe director of Brookings’ Turkey Project, and Gökçe Uysal Kolaşin, assistant professor at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University, wrote on Wednesday for Brookings. 

“But instead of insisting on returning refugees to Syria, Turkey should — together with the EU — explore policies to help them become more self-reliant and productive members of the Turkish economy,” the authors said. 

As the prospect of a new refugee wave from Syria’s Idlib province has increased, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been calling for a safe zone inside Syria where a million refugees can be returned and threatening to open the gates to let Syrians through to Europe. 

Kirişci and Kolaşin argue that returning Syrians home is not realistic, as the country remains a conflict zone and the European Court of Human Rights said that forced return would be a violation of the right to life. Instead, Turkey should integrate Syrian into its economy, the authors said, pointing to agriculture as an ideal area for cooperation. 

Nearly one-fifth of Turkey’s workers (5.5 million people, or 19% of labor force) are involved in farming, including some 500,000 wage earners spread across smaller farms and large food manufacturing firms, according to Kirişci and Kolaşin. 

“It is frequently reported that the agricultural sector in general — and these large companies in particular — suffer from a labor supply shortage as both GDP and employment shift towards non-agricultural sectors,” the authors said. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that large numbers of Syrians have found employment as temporary workers in agriculture, particularly in Turkey’s southeastern provinces.”

Currently, Syrians working in agriculture are exempt from obtaining work permits, but these jobs should be shifted to formal employment to best harness this opportunity, said Kirişci and Kolaşin. 

On Wednesday, Erdoğan spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel about refugees and Idlib. They might have also discussed possible EU policies to incentivise Turkish farms and food businesses to employ Syrians, such as increasing quotes for products that involve Syrian refugee labor and allowing Syrian refugee participation in the pre-accession rural development plan, according to the authors. 

“Cooperation between the EU and Turkey to improve refugees’ self-reliance by enabling them to access decent, formal work in the agricultural sector is in the interest of all parties,” said  Kirişci and Kolaşin. “Such a ‘win-win-win’ approach benefiting the EU, Turkey, and more importantly the refugees could help expand and strengthen cooperation at a time when the political relationship between the EU and Turkey is fraught.”