Vast majority of Syrians in Turkey working without insurance, say migration experts 

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The vast majority of Syrian migrants in Turkey are working in jobs that provide no insurance or benefits, according to migrations experts.

Turkey, under its temporary protection regime, has granted 3,535,898 Syrian nationals the right to legally stay in the country. Speaking to BBC Turkish service, experts said there were 1 million Syrians in the labor force but that only 60,000 of them had been granted work permits.

The rest were working in unregistered, or uninsured, jobs for very low pay and did not have the means to seek better working conditions. 

“The problem is complicated,” said migration expert Professor Murat Erdoğan. “On the one hand unregistered work is illegal and a clear exploitation of Syrians. On the other, how are Syrians supposed to make a living? Employers only give them work because they’re cheap labor. The government needs to aid these migrants financially so they aren’t forced into these exploitative jobs.”

Sociologist Didem Danış said the government saw cheap labor as an opportunity. “Turkey will always need cheap labor, and migrants fulfill this need. Turks do not want to work without benefits for very low pay, despite the economic crisis,” she said.

Danış said the bureaucratic process of obtaining a work permit for migrants was grueling. Migrants cannot apply for the permits themselves, and their employer must start the process. But this means the employer must pay them at least the minimum wage,” she explained.

According to regulations the number of migrants in a workplace cannot exceed 10 percent of the total number of employees. However, migrants are usually concentrated in certain areas of work, meaning their percentages are much higher than the regulation stipulates. 

In some cases Syrians themselves do not want to be insured because their employers are required to deduct their insurance premiums from their wages. Moreover, recent studies have revealed that the government is turning a blind eye to the exploitation of migrants because of economic gain.   

“We need to remember that uninsured workers do not pay taxes, meaning they are an additional burden on society,” said Erdoğan. “The burden of healthcare, education and other services are on the rest of society.”

Speaking to local media Syrians say they are continuously blamed for rising unemployment and the economic crisis in Turkey but that they can barely survive on the wages they earn.

Amid increasing anti-migrant sentiment, Syrians said the problem was not their presence in the country but the government’s policies. Most Syrians are seen as cheap labor since they work for 50 percent lower wages than Turkish nationals, and employers rarely provide insurance benefits for their Syrian workers.

According to UNHCR Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide. The country is currently home to some 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees along with close to 320,000 persons of concern from other nationalities.

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