Neglected Labour Rights: The Vulnerability of Refugees’ Work

by Abdulaziz Abdulaziz

Cover Image Credit: International Labour Organization

Work is a substantial need and indispensable at all levels. The accessibility to safe, sustainable, voluntary, non-discriminatory, and fairly-paid work for everyone is an official human right stated in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23). But does “everyone” really have access to such an ideal environment? Are refugee and asylum-seeker labour rights well-protected by legal systems? Do the instruments of international labour laws monitor refugee work statuses, or do they disappear in practice?

Due to the limited number of countries that host refugees, these states bear the brunt of tremendous influxes of asylum seekers, most of whom were rendered devoid of financial capacities and skills which projects or jobs in foreign countries may necessitate. Fearing the gross deformation of the labour market; the inability to address the overwhelming workforce; the abrupt increase of the prices because of the rise of the demand; the increase of the unemployment rate which will lead to a decrease in wages and a drop in work conditions; and the exploitation of sweatshops and the informal market for the urgent work, many host governments, with the help of aid from transnational organizations’, had to confine refugees in camps and prevent them from working. However, starting to control this disturbing crisis and to offset the pressurizing protests of NGOs, not long after, the host governments started to alleviate work constraints on refugees and give them narrow ways to engage in the labour market and local societies, an action that resulted in remarkable gaps in the refugees’ work rights. Many refugees found it impossible to find decent work or engage in the formal market due to legal restrictions, language obstacles, lack of skills and money, xenophobia of the host communities, etc. As a result, many refugees fell victim to sweatshops and the disturbance of the informal market.

For example, Turkey is one of the biggest host countries for Syrian refugees and refugees from other nationalities. Recent surveys conducted by the 3RP Turkey Country Chapter 2020-2021 showed that, although 84% of refugee families in Turkey had at least one person who is working, only 3% of them were working with a work permit, which highlights the risks faced by the enormous crowds who work in the informal market. Furthermore, a study conducted by ILO (International Labour Organization) in 2017 on Syrian refugees’ work in Turkey showed that Syrian workers earned, on average, below the minimum wage applicable in 2017. Moreover, the study showed that 75% of Syrians worked more than 45 hours per week, and around 9.8% reached extreme working hours of more than 70 hours per week.

It is worth noting that Turkey and most of the host countries have fragile economies, a challenge that makes them incapable of bolstering the resilience of refugee work, despite financial support from countries whose economies are strong. Money is not the main impediment to proper refugee work rights, so rather than raising funds to avail refugees in weak countries, a more efficient solution is to host refugees equally based on the country’s capabilities.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

ILO’s support to refugees and host communities in Turkey

Turkey: 3RP Country Chapter - 2020/2021 - EN

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