Refugees in Turkey Trapped in Cycle of Exploitative Work, New Refugees International Report Finds

Washington, D.C. (December 4, 2017) – A new Refugees International (RI) report released today examines the inaccessibility of work permits for the vast majority of refugees in Turkey, despite the possibility of legal employment under Turkish law. The study, “I Am Only Looking for My Rights”: Legal Employment Still Inaccessible for Refugees in Turkey, is based on interviews with dozens of Syrian and non-Syrian refugees in Turkey in October 2017.

The report finds that without legal employment, refugees become trapped in a cycle of informal work where the risk of exploitation and abuse is high. In addition, the lack of decent wages for adult refugees pushes many refugee children into the job market as well, instead of attending school.

“Refugees in Turkey face enormous hurdles to finding legal employment,” said Izza Leghtas, RI senior advocate for Europe. “Refugees commonly work excessively long hours and in difficult working conditions and are paid a fraction of their Turkish counterparts.”

While the Government of Turkey took an important and positive step in early 2016 by introducing a system of work permits for Syrian refugees, a possibility which already existed for non-Syrian refugees, most employers are reluctant to apply for these work permits and to pay the required fee. Other difficulties refugees face are language barriers and a climate of hostility and negative myths about the impact of refugees on Turkish society.

To address these issues, the Government of Turkey should both educate the Turkish public about refugees and their positive contribution to Turkish society and encourage employers to hire refugees. In this context, where Turkey already hosts 3.5 million refugees and does not provide them with adequate protections, European Union (EU) governments and the United States should accept much larger numbers of refugees through resettlement and other programs. The report also urges EU governments not to send asylum-seekers from Greece back to Turkey, as provided under an agreement between the EU and Turkey in March 2016.

For its part, the European Union, which provides billions of Euros to Turkey for projects to assist refugees, should place greater emphasis on livelihoods and enabling the refugee population to be self-sufficient.

Read the full English-language version of the report here.

Read the full Turkish-language version of the report here. 

For interviews with Izza Leghtas (in English, French, Arabic, and Spanish), please contact Gail Chalef, Senior Communications Officer, at either (202) 540-7026 or at