After five years of conflict, unrest and displacement in and around Syria, the protracted refugee crisis in neighboring countries is ever more pressing. Millions of Syrian refugees are now living in Jordan and Lebanon, many of whom have depleted their savings and are now struggling to meet their families’ basic needs. Jordanian and Lebanese labour laws fail to foster an amenable climate to encourage access to safe and sustainable work, and both countries have issued work permits to only a few.
The economic impact of these policy decisions has been largely felt in the informal sector, which remains the primary avenue for Syrian refugees to find work, often at great risk of exploitation and unsafe working conditions. Syrian refugees have thus ensured a large supply of low-wage work, causing a growth in the informal market and placing downward pressure on wages and work conditions across the informal labor markets. The detrimental impacts are felt both by Syrian refugees and the most vulnerable host communities, who are more likely to also be employed in these large informal markets. The result is a race to the bottom for the lowest wages and potentially an inability for those most vulnerable to earn sufficient wages to meet their essential needs and live in dignity.
All refugee hosting states, including Jordan and Lebanon, have legal obligations towards refugees that go beyond the obligation not to return refugees to their country of origin where they fear persecution. These include rights that are fundamental to human dignity – including the right to work.