Closing the gap - From work rights to decent work for Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Published 14. Feb 2022
Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) are in need of decent work opportunities. While Iraqis and Syrian refugees are struggling in the midst of a weakening economy, NRC’s research highlights the barriers and work rights violations faced by Syrians in KRI. It also reveals unrealised potential for refugee-led enterprise and job creation, which if fostered, can help drive economic recovery.

More than a quarter of a million Syrian refugees currently reside in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. They have been allowed residency and the de facto right to work by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and their shared identity as Kurds has contributed to a high degree of social and cultural integration. However, the economy in Iraq has weakened as a result of the conflict with the Islamic State group (IS), fluctuating oil prices, and disagreements over budgetary arrangements with the Government of Iraq.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Iraq examined the existing legal framework for Syrian refugees in KRI and the specific barriers they face in accessing decent work opportunities. NRC conducted focus group discussions and interviews with Syrian refugees in KRI who described the specific challenges they have encountered in securing sustainable livelihoods.

Syrian refugees can only work in the private sector in KRI, particularly in the informal economy that comes without formalized contracts, job security, and access to social benefits. Syrians reported lower salaries and a lack of social protection in the jobs that are accessible to them. They also stated they lack the social networks that are critical for acquiring jobs in a competitive and waning economy.

Female Syrian refugees face an additional layer of discrimination when it comes to finding jobs. Female respondents highlighted gender discrimination in the workplace and traditional gendered expectations impeding them from acquiring jobs outside of non-paid care work in the household.

In addition, few Syrians are knowledgeable of their labour rights and even for those that are aware, there are gaps in enforcing worker protections in the private sector. Syrian refugees reported lower salaries, longer hours, and poor conditions. Many also stated they have few very options available in the face of work rights violations other than leaving their jobs.

The current scarcity of decent work opportunities in KRI is at the heart of both Iraqis’ and Syrians’ needs. Economic inclusion is essential not only for Syrian refugees to become self-reliant, but also to harness the untapped potential and expertise of Syrian refugees in economic recovery in KRI.