Helen Clark: Speech at High-Level Side Event – Supporting the Resilience of the Host Countries and Refugees in the Context of the Syria Crisis

Apr 4, 2017

Subject to varying national legislation and limited in some cases to certain sectors, Syrian refugees can now work in the five neighboring countries. Photo: UNDP.

With the Syria crisis now in its seventh year, the search for durable solutions for refugees, internally displaced people, and host communities is critically important. Employment creation is central to those solutions. That was affirmed at the London Conference on Syria, and reiterated at the Expanding Jobs and Economic Opportunities Expert Meeting on responses to the Syria crisis co-hosted by Germany and UNDP in Bonn recently.

The London Conference set the formidable target of creating 1.1 million jobs in countries neighbouring Syria which are impacted by the crisis. 

To support governments and development partners to identify opportunities for generating jobs and livelihoods, UNDP, with strong support from the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), conducted an in-depth-economic opportunity assessment in the six countries affected by the crisis, including Syria itself. This research is published in a new report – Jobs Make The Difference: Expanding Economic Opportunities…. – which is being launched tomorrow.

Positive trends

The assessment identified a number of positive trends: 

1. Inclusive Labor Markets 

Host countries in the region have taken steps to make labor markets more inclusive of Syrian refugees. Subject to varying national legislation,  and limited in some cases to certain sectors, Syrian refugees can now work in the five neighboring countries.

Egypt, for example, has permitted 2,000 Syrians to work in Syrian community-run schools, and the primary organization in the country supporting SMEs – the Social Fund for Development – has focused on ensuring that financial and non-financial services are available to Egyptians and to Syrian refugees alike. Syrians with residence permits can work more generally.

In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, vocational training centers operated by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs provide the same type of services to the local population, internally displaced people, and Syrian refugees. 

In Jordan, relaxation of the requirements for Syrian refugees to access a work permit and their exemption from paying work permit fees have been central components of the Government’s response to the London commitments. Early evidence suggests that these reforms are having a significant impact: some 40,000 Syrian refugees are estimated to have received work permits by January 2017, compared with just over 5,000 in 2015.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon have access to work in construction, agriculture, and certain low skills service sectors of the economy. Lebanon also removed a previous requirement which refugees had been obliged to sign when registering whereby they pledged not to work in the country.

In Turkey, economic inclusion is seen as important for social cohesion. Turkey established a formal process for Syrian refugees to access work permits with the issuing of the “Regulation on Work Permit of Refugees Under Temporary Protection” in January 2016.  This regulation also gave Syrians access to the job matching and other services of the government employment agency (ISKUR). 

Turkey has also employed skilled professionals in the refugee population, such as doctors, nurses, and teachers, to provide services to the refugee communities. More than 11,000 Syrian teachers and 300 Syrian medical professionals have received work permits enabling them to provide services to other Syrian refugees. 

Over fifty community centers in Turkey offer a wide range of services to Syrian refugees. These include offering language courses, providing resources on Turkish law and culture, and offering information on labor market opportunities, housing, and health care – all of which help to form bonds between Syrians and Turks.

2. Labor Intensive Work – Infrastructure. 

In Syria and the neighbouring countries, infrastructure construction and repair have been creating large numbers of short-term low-, semi-, and high-skilled employment opportunities. These jobs often include an element of skills training.

In the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, enhancing stability and alleviating social tensions between refugees and host communities is an explicit goal. Efforts to that end include municipal level, labor-intensive projects, such as canal clearing and solid waste management, which provide work for both Lebanese and Syrians. 

Jordan is aiming to build on labour intensive infrastructure projects by promoting investment in “megaprojects”, such as its national railway network and improved grid connections with Saudi Arabia in order to expand job opportunities.

3. Economic Zones and Trade. 

The EU’s relaxation of “rules of origin” requirements for imports from Jordan – benefiting some 52 economic products in eighteen designated development zones - is an important step in promoting investment and supporting both Syrian and Jordanian employment. The only condition for firms benefiting from this initiative is that at least fifteen per cent of their workforce should be Syrian, and that proportion should then rise to 25 per cent after two years.  

In Gaziantep, Turkey, the Chamber of Industry and the Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality are planning to construct an industrial zone which could employ as many as 150,000 Turks and Syrian refugees. 

In Lebanon, industrial zones are planned by the Ministry of Industry with the technical support of UNIDO. Syrian entrepreneurs could be accommodated in these zones. 

In Egypt, Syrian-owned businesses have utilized unused space in existing industrial parks, and are reported to be flourishing and employing Egyptian workers.

Key Challenges

Despite this considerable progress, challenges remain, as highlighted in the report: 

• Weak economic growth. An underlying challenge for employment creation in the six countries is slow, or negative, economic growth. Syria’s economy has been devastated by the ongoing conflict, with an estimated two-thirds of GDP lost, and neighboring economies are under significant pressure.

• Informality. Economies in the subregion have high levels of informality in the labor market.  Before the crisis, for example, the informal economy accounted for 69 per cent of new jobs in Syria from 2001 to 2007, and for 75 per cent of new labor market entrants in Egypt between 2000 and 2005.

• Labor market mismatch. A disconnect between the training and the experience of labor market entrants and the actual needs of the labor market is another long-standing challenge. In addition, youth seeking to enter the labor market often have expectations which do not align with labor market realities.

Other important challenges include insufficient access to investment and financing, burdensome business rules and regulations, and, in some cases, export disruption.


The report identifies a number of recommendations to improve support for job and livelihood creation in the region:

First,  strengthening the existing national private sectors – and in particular the medium and large firms which have been the primary source of job creation – is likely to be the quickest path to create sustainable economic opportunities. 

Second, the UN partnership on these issues needs to be stronger and more cohesive to provide a better co-ordinating platform for international efforts and impact. UN support to livelihoods remains fragmented, limited in scale, and underfunded. Further integration will create the required critical mass of knowledge and capacities to expand  livelihoods opportunities to contribute to meeting the London’s targets. 

Following the multi-country economic opportunity assessment, UNDP, WFP, ILO, FAO, UNHABITAT, and IOM have agreed to discuss bringing the UN’s efforts together in an integrated UN partnership for employment generation and livelihoods across the six countries. We look forward to advancing this goal together with host governments and other development partners, banks, and organizations in the coming months to ensure the maximum efficiency of our efforts and resource use.

Third, generating large-scale employment will require more strategic and co-ordinated use of the existing scattered, short-term emergency employment initiatives, alongside the creation of sustainable economic opportunities. 

Fourth, financing infrastructure construction and repair should be a crucial component of the crisis response, as it creates short-term economic opportunities for both host community nationals and refugees. Appropriately designed infrastructure projects can also support the expansion of longer-term economic opportunities. 


In closing, let me thank  WFP and ILO for their major support to UNDP on the jobs report, and also acknowledge UNDP’s strong partnership with UNCHR through the Regional Refugee and Resilience (3RP) initiative from its outset. 

UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Arab States 
Go to UNDP Global