Bridging the Gap: From Labor Rights to Decent Work for Syrian Refugees in KRI – Iraq
Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) need decent work opportunities. As Iraqis and Syrians struggle amid a weakening economy, NRC research highlights the barriers and labor rights violations Syrians face. It also reveals unrealized potential for refugee-led businesses and job creation, which, if encouraged, can contribute to economic recovery in KRI.
Over a quarter of a million Syrian refugees currently reside in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). They were granted de facto residency and work by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and their common identity as Kurds contributed to a high degree of social and cultural integration. However, the Iraqi economy has weakened due to the conflict with the Islamic State (IS) group, fluctuating oil prices and disagreements over fiscal arrangements with the Iraqi government.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Iraq reviewed 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 faced in securing sustainable livelihoods.
Syrian refugees can only work in the private sector in KRI, especially in the informal economy which comes with formal contracts, job security and access to social benefits. Syrians have reported lower wages and a lack of social protection in the jobs available to them. They also said they lacked the social networks that are essential for securing jobs in a competitive and declining economy.
Syrian refugee women face an additional layer of discrimination when it comes to finding employment. Women interviewed pointed to gender discrimination in the workplace and traditional gender expectations preventing them from getting jobs outside of unpaid care work in the household.
Additionally, few Syrians know their labor rights and even for those who do, there are gaps in the enforcement of worker protections in the private sector. Syrian refugees reported lower wages, longer hours and poor conditions. Many also said they had few options available in the face of labor rights violations other than quitting their jobs.
The current scarcity of decent work opportunities in the KRI is at the heart of the needs of Iraqis and Syrians. 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.