Turkey moves to end exploitation of refugee workers

Turkey moves to end exploitation of refugee workers

As Turkey eyes new laws to bring thousands of Syrian refugees out of the shadowy world of black-market labor, analysts say that these policies need to stamp out exploitation and curb fears among Turkish society Anadolu Agency reported

Earlier this month Labor Minister Faruk Celik said the country would revise its system of work permits and introduce ID cards for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, bringing them into its employment and welfare system.

However, a new survey released this week by Hacettepe University in Ankara has revealed that almost 48 percent of Turkish respondents totally oppose work permits for refugees.

Almost 30 percent backed temporary work permits for fixed-term jobs and well over half of respondents - 56 percent - believe that Syrians have taken away their jobs.

This number jumps to almost 70 percent in Turkey's southeast, where most refugees reside.

According to the Hacettepe University report, by October 2014 Turkey was hosting over 1.5 million Syrian people - with 1.4 million of these living outside of official camps.

Based on data from the country's Interior Ministry, 72 of 81 Turkish provinces are currently home to Syrians who have fled their country.

This leaves huge numbers of vulnerable refugees working in a parallel world of undocumented labor.

Syrians in Turkey are currently under temporary protection, but as their stay is turning out to be more than temporary, such legislation is aimed at making their legal status clear.

According to experts, the new legislation's most significant benefit would be to pull undocumented workers out of this black market for casual labor and improve the integration process into Turkish society.

Piril Ercoban from Turkey's Solidarity With Refugees Association (Multeci-Der) told the Anadolu Agency that easing work permit criteria would prevent many underpaid refugees - already struggling to fulfill their basic needs - from being exploited.

"Those people are working for salaries that are way below the minimum wage in Turkey; [this is] not to mention the child labor issue," said Ercoban.

The minimum monthly minimum wage for a single worker in Turkey is around 891 lira ($400 approximately).

"In most cases, since refugees do not have a status to prove, they face problems which can even leave them without their wages. This situation pushes them to be part of informal labor," says Polat Kizildag, a program coordinator from the Association for Solidarity With Refugees And Immigrants.

Normally, refugees can apply for work permits after six months of residency. According to Kizildag, this six-month condition might be eased or abolished in the new bylaw.

Ercoban says that many refugees will most probably prolong their already-four-year stay since the war in Syria shows no sign of ending.

"After a possible 10-15-year stay, there will be a big question mark over whether those people will even want to return," says Ercoban. "Policies over integration with [Turkish] society should be implemented," she added.

Turkey's mainly southeastern provinces, to where Syrian refugees have mostly gravitated, have seen protests and complaints by Turkish citizens who feel that the refugees have taken away job opportunities or disrupted their lives.

Ercoban said the new work permit proposals might spark a further "negative reaction" from Turkish people but, in the mid to long-term, will help maintain social peace and secure integration.

"Those people [refugees] are already working because they have to. This means the market needs this labor force in some way. With better working conditions and social securities granted, we expect that the issues which cause tension with local people will be overcome," she added.

Analysts have suggested that another solution to refugees' employment problems could be to determine their former occupations - such as those of doctors or engineers - and place them accordingly in the Turkish labor market.

Kizildag praised Turkey's foreigners and international protection law, which took effect in April this year, saying it was "surprising" to implement legislation drafted to international standards while the country was dealing with a massive influx of refugees.

Although, Turkey has been slow to start registering the refugees outside the camps in various cities, the process will yield good results in various issues, including social peace, security and economy, said Ercoban.

Nevertheles, as fighting in Syria rages and Turkey continues to provide a safe haven for those fleeing the conflict, hard questions need to be asked about providing a stable and secure environment for those who have already lost everything.

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