Lack of labor market integration for refugees fuelling an education crisis for Syrian children

Lack of labor market integration for refugees fuelling an education crisis for Syrian children

Low rates of school enrollment are threatening to create a “lost generation” of young Syrians, the UNICEF Deputy Executive Director has warned, with a lack of labor market integration for parents being identified as the most significant barrier to their children's education.

Turkey (which is the biggest host country for refugees from the Syrian conflict) is currently home to approximately 900,000 school-aged refugee children from Syria, of whom an estimated 380,000 are not currently receiving schooling.

Although there has been a 50% increase in enrollment since June 2016, the lack of work and income for Syrians means that families are often forced to prioritize money for basic needs over perceived luxuries such as school fees and health care. A consequence of this is that many children also have to forgo education in order to enter the workforce (often illegally) and make a small wage to support their families.

The lack of formal employment opportunities for refugees in Turkey has meant that an estimated 500,000 Syrians have entered the shadow economy, where there is a large risk of exploitation by employers. Whilst the Turkish government has attempted to decrease this number by giving work permits to registered refugees, only 13,298 such permits have been issued so far, equivalent to less than 0.5% of registered refugees.

Jeremy Monk, Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID), suggests that “As long as adult refugees continue to be underpaid working in the black economy … their children will be forced to enter the workforce and forgo their education.”

In his article Integrating refugees into labor markets, Pieter Bevelander suggests that in comparison with other immigrant categories, refugees are integrated more slowly into host countries’ labor markets and do not “catch up” with economic migrants and natives.  

He concludes that “host countries are missing out on the potential economic gains offered by refugee immigration. In turn, this gap can fuel poverty and segregation among refugees and increase societal costs. This could reduce host countries’ willingness to accept new flows of refugees.”

Read more articles from IZA World of Labor on migration policy

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