Syrian refugees need access to work rights and economic opportunity, new Asylum Access report says

For Syrian refugees, the route to self-sufficiency begins with the right to lawful work, says a new report launched today by Asylum Access. For the nations that host them in massive numbers — such as Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon — the challenge of the moment is to open such legal avenues. Achieving this, according to the report released today by Asylum Access, can prove a boon to refugee and host nation alike.

The “Refugee Work Rights Report: The Syrian Crisis” compares a sample of four countries, Greece, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, who together have received more than 4.5 million refugees since 2011. The report scores how well they respect, protect, and promote refugee work rights — in other words, whether their domestic laws grant work rights to refugees, whether these are implemented in practice and in workplace protections, and how widely they provide training, orientation, and job placement services for refugees.

The report’s key findings are:

Widespread barriers: Though Turkey receives the most favorable ranking of the four, and Lebanon the least, in all four countries a refugee’s ability to find lawful work is fraught with multiple legal and practical barriers.

Legal barriers include absent or unclear national laws granting refugee work rights, restrictions on refugee movement, and bureaucratic hurdles like exorbitant work permit fees. Practical barriers include discrimination, low pay and poor conditions, as well as lack of familiarity with local work rights and language.

In many parts of the world, economic inclusion of refugees has proven beneficial to refugee and host country alike, and the same may prove true for the four countries studied. When allowed to work, refugees tend to be entrepreneurial and even create jobs for locals. On the other hand, barring refugees from legal work can depress wages in the formal sector while spurring the unregulated informal sector, increase hostilities with host nation citizens, and incur enforcement costs.

The report was launched in New York City on September 20 at an event on “Refugees at Work” co-sponsored by Asylum Access, International Rescue Committee, Oliver Wyman, and Action Corps. According to Asylum Access Executive Director Emily Arnold-Fernandez, “for countries absorbing the outflow of refugees from Syria the question is not only ‘how can they provide for these refugees?’ but also ‘how can they allow for these refugees to provide for themselves?’”

The report is available for download at

Photo: Laura Samira Naude / ECHO Refugee Library