An asset, not a burden: Turkey mulling granting Syrian refugees work permits

Published June 9th, 2014 - 08:35 GMT

Thousands of Syrian refugees who are currently being employed in different sectors across Turkey may finally receive their work permits from the government, officials from the ruling party said on Thursday.

Turkey is sheltering more than 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled their country following a bloody domestic war and at least half a million of them outside the camps it began building in mid-2011, official figures show. Some unofficial sources put this figure as high as 1 million.

The majority of Syrian refugees are staying in border provinces while thousands have also moved to large cities such as İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir.

Ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) foreign relations deputy head Ali Şahin told a press conference in Ankara on Thursday that the government “is working on amending the law to provide Syrians with official work permits.” Companies, especially in border cities, are looking for qualified workers to hire, Şahin said, adding however that these employers are not legally allowed to hire Syrian refugees to meet this labor force demand. The AK Party official also said the anticipated new regulation to provide work permits would only cover the region bordering Syria.

Experts have long argued that a skilled Syrian workforce should be turned into an advantage for both sides, with the work permit issue remaining the major obstacle before this. Others have said this could pose a risk to the socioeconomic balance in Turkish border cities.

There are also Syrians who have established their own businesses in Turkey. Since the start of 2014, a wave of Syrian entrepreneurs has entered the Turkish business world. One out of every four new limited liability companies (LLC) that were set up in Turkey in the first quarter were established by Syrians, according to Ministry of Customs and Trade data.

Turkey's unemployment rate was 10.2 percent in February. The status of Syrian refugees has been a hot topic of discussion in Turkey since last year, when granting Syrians Turkish citizenship was also discussed.

The increasing burden on Syrians to feed their families has become worse as the crisis in Syria deepens and the majority of refugees in Turkey are unwilling to return to their homes. The government said last month that Turkey had spent $3.5 billion providing food, shelter and education but had received just $150 million in assistance from other countries.

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