Turkey hosts 3.5 million refugees, the world's largest refugee population, of which an estimated 3.2 million are from Syria. As a consequence of the protracted war in Syria, the mass movement of refugees fleeing conflict zones still continues. However, there are millions of Syrians who have now been living in Turkey for years, and who are building their lives and futures in Turkey. This necessitates a dual approach towards Syrians in Turkey, considering them simultaneously as both refugees fleeing their countries due to civil war, as well as active economic agents looking for opportunities to work or invest.
In this new working paper, Emre Eren Korkmaz addresses the participation of Syrian refugees in Turkey's informal economy. There is a growing interest in the working conditions of Syrian refugees in Turkey from the Turkish government, many UN agencies, as well as various NGOs and transnational corporations, who are implementing programmes and projects to tackle the varying needs of Syrian refugees. Rather than solely objectifying refugees as a vulnerable group, Dr Korkmaz argues that paying attention to their contribution to industrial relations is crucial in order to acknowledge refugees as active agents capable of changing their lives and the structures within which they operate. The working paper focuses on the relations between the informal and formal sectors in Turkey and how such relations have affected the survival strategies of Syrian refugees. In turn, it also attempts to assess how the participation of Syrian refugees in the informal economy has changed these historical relations between formal and informal employment, and provides recommendations about what can be done going forward to ensure fair, legal employment of all workers in Turkey's garment sector, including Syrian refugees.