An Assessment on Humanitarian Aid and Labor Market Policies in Türkiye in the Era of Socioeconomic Contradictions

Kurum: ILO
Numan Özcan
ILO Türkiye Representative

It would not be accurate to characterize the current century as one marked by natural disasters, climate change with escalating impacts and drought, and forced displacement due to wars and conflicts. As emphasized in the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Global Wage Report on the Monitoring of the World of Work1, the effects of political, economic, and natural crises are increasing, often triggering each other and disproportionately affecting vulnerable segments of society.

One of the dynamics through which we can see the repercussions of these crises is undoubtedly migration and forced displacement. According to the UNHCR data for 2022, it is observed that more than 89 million people have been forced to migrate within their own countries or across borders. This massive mobility includes 20% children and youth aged 0-17 and 26% men and women of working age. As several scientists have also emphasized, facilitating returns is a highly challenging and long-term process.2 3 The fact that the displaced population is quite young and the likelihood of return is low underscores the necessity of humanitarian aid policies that address their basic and immediate needs from the early stages, as well as development policies that support access to education and employment. 

Since its establishment in 1919, the ILO, with its unique tripartite structure (including governments, employers, and workers’ representatives), has been working to ensure social justice and labor peace worldwide. It develops international labor standards to support access to decent work, and it has recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Throughout its history, the ILO has been actively engaged in efforts to help forcibly displaced individuals access decent jobs and rebuild their lives. In this context, ILO constitution also includes all persons who enter the labor force in countries other than their own.

The normative framework of the ILO, consisting of conventions and recommendations on critical issues such as access to social security, occupational health and safety, and the prevention of forced labor, offers a comprehensive portfolio of cooperation for forcibly displaced groups on a global scale in Africa, Arab countries, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, encompassing labor force participation and integration policies. This portfolio places critical importance on strengthening and developing the link between humanitarian aid programs and development and social policies. 

The experiences gained by the ILO Türkiye Office, which is implementing one of the most comprehensive refugee support programs, have shed light on and contributed to the development of all these programs in different regions. The ILO report published in 2020, which evaluates the experiences and best practices related to the labor market access of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, also emphasizes the importance of Türkiye’s refugee support programs.4 Under the title ‘Guiding Principles on Access to the Labour Market for Refugees and Other Forcibly Displaced Persons,’ the report lists 34 fundamental principles. These principles are also included in Recommendation No. 205 concerning Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience. All these reference documents serve as examples of the normative role played by the ILO, which implements a wide range of active employment for refugees, in shaping policy-making processes that support sustainability and resilience. 

The ‘Refugee Support Program,’ implemented in Türkiye since 2016, has been designed to reflect both the normative role of the ILO and its tripartite structure involving government, employer, and worker representatives. It consists of three main components, which can be summarized as follows:

  1. Supporting labor supply through active employment policies that address skill development and transformation needs.
  2. Increasing formal employment through programs tailored to the needs of the labor market and supporting businesses in transitioning to the formal sector.
  3. Ensuring decent work for all. 

In the 12th year of the Syrian crisis, which has resulted in the largest refugee movement in world history, Türkiye continues to be the country hosting the most refugees. Considering the ongoing conflict and security risks since the beginning of the war, it would not be wrong to conclude that it is still early for scenarios to return to take place. Therefore, refugee support programs need to align with global socio-economic developments, particularly for host countries that have had to contend with challenging socio-economic conditions even before the refugee influx.5 The ILO, which designs policy-making and implementation processes with this in mind, regards refugee labor as a critical factor in enhancing the competitiveness of host countries and as an added value that attracts global businesses.6 7 In this context, the ILO Türkiye Office has emphasized two crucial themes in recent years that play a determining role in the changing and transforming labor markets: (i) global climate change and green jobs, (ii) skills transformation driven by automation and digitalization, and their certification. 

As global climate change continues to have an increasing impact on social and economic aspects, developments related to the balance between conservation and utilization of nature are gaining more prominence on global policy platforms. It should be emphasized that climate change needs to be a critical parameter in national public planning processes. Accordingly, programs focusing on green jobs and green skills are coming to the forefront. It should be noted that in today’s and tomorrow’s business world, the social and economic fabric must be rebuilt on the foundations of environmental sustainability and inclusive production and consumption. To support sustainable and green recovery, policies and investments are required that do not repeat or exacerbate existing injustices in the transition to a green and circular economy. It is essential to highlight that for a job to be considered green, it should not only create environmental benefits but also be dignified for individuals: Fair wages, social security, occupational health and safety, organization and collective bargaining, gender equality, opportunities for professional and personal development are all integral components of the definition of green jobs. 

When defining green jobs, it is essential to include the concept of the green economy, which has gained more prominence in the development agenda since the early 2000s. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) defines the green economy as a model that aims to increase social justice and well-being while reducing environmental risks and ecological problems.8 Building on this definition, the ILO and UNEP summarize green jobs as those that contribute to the protection of the environment or the improvement of environmental quality in various sectors such as agriculture, industry, R&D, administrative roles, and services.9 Throughout its work, the ILO emphasizes the agendas of just transition and climate justice, highlighting their critical importance. 

The ILO places green growth at the center of its human resources policies. According to the findings of the report ‘The Social and Employment Impacts of Climate Change and Green Economy Policies in Turkey,’ prepared in partnership with UNDP, Türkiye has the potential to increase its gross domestic product by an additional 8 billion USD annually by 2030 by investing in renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. Additionally, it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8% compared to 2019 levels and create over 300,000 new jobs.10 Furthermore, investments in green energy sources such as wind and solar are expected to not only benefit the environment but also provide a solution to the energy crisis, one of the most critical challenges the world is facing. In parallel with these findings, designed education programs and employment support can contribute to both the formal employment of refugees and provide social, economic, and environmental benefits for Türkiye.

For forcibly displaced groups to sustain their lives with fair wages and actively contribute to host country economies without the need for social assistance mechanisms, it is critically important for them to adapt their technical and vocational skills in line with changing modes of production. They should have access to opportunities for professional development and transformation. In this context, numerous studies highlight the need to develop a qualified workforce for high-tech production and emphasize the central role of human and social justice in policy-making processes.11 12 13 14 This situation serves as a concrete example of the strengthening connection that should exist between development policies, such as humanitarian aid, education, and employment. 

In accordance with the principles of social justice and the lifelong learning right defined by the ILO, the ILO Türkiye Office also implements education-focused activation programs in parallel with digitalization and automation trends. As examples, (i) various software training programs selected in parallel with open positions in the market and (ii) skill development training on artificial intelligence technologies for customer service employees providing online services in different languages, whose job descriptions and structures are changing with technological advancements, to enhance data analysis and coding skills, can be provided. However, as mentioned above, considering that one of the most prominent characteristics of the current century is the mobility of people, goods, and services, it is essential to emphasize the importance of refugees having access to internationally recognized vocational qualification systems. The functionality of regional and international qualification frameworks in verifying and certifying competencies and experiences is a policy area that requires focus. Steps taken in this area have gained increased importance and momentum in the context of policies for refugee labor force access in Türkiye.

The traditional definition of humanitarian aid activities should be seen as not just innovative but as a necessity for parallelism with the changing employment policies driven by global climate change, digitalization, and automation. It is a critical turning point for the acceptance of this perspective for forcibly displaced groups to transition from passive beneficiaries to productive individuals who contribute social, economic, and environmental benefits to host countries. Considering that the parameters triggering forced migration have remained unsolved for decades and are expected to persist, strengthening the connection between development policies and humanitarian aid policies is not a mere hope but a necessity. 

Therefore, decent work emerges as one of the Sustainable Development Goals accepted by all United Nations member countries, focusing on ending poverty, taking measures against the climate crisis, and allocating resources for fair sharing and peace. Lastly, it should be emphasized that inequalities and poverty can be eliminated, justice can prevail, and a greener and better future with peace and justice is possible for forcibly displaced individuals, women, children, and all people. All the work of the ILO is built upon this principle: Si vis pacem, cole justatium (If you want peace, work for justice). 

1. ILO. (2022). ILO Monitor on the world of work. Tenth edition Multiple crises threaten the global labour market recovery—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/briefingnote/wcms_859255.pdf 

2. Erdoğan, M. M., Kirişci, K. ve Uysal, G. (2021). Improving Syrian Refugee Inclusion in the Turkish Economy. World Refugee & Migration Council Research Report 

3. Zetter, R. (2021). Refugees and Their Return Home: Unsettling Matters. Journal of Refugee Studies, 34(1), s.7-22. 

4. ILO (2020). Employment and decent work in refugee and other forced displacement contexts WCMS_763174/lang–en/index.htm 

5. Karslı Varol, G. (2022). An Evaluation of the Role of Active Labour Market Policies on Syrian Refugees’ Access to the Labour Market: The Case of ILO in Turkey. Yüksek Lisans Tezi. Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi. 

6. Betts, A., Collier, P. (2015). Help refugees help themselves: Let displaced Syrians join the labor market. Foreign Aff., 94(6), s. 82-94. 

7. Zetter, R., Ruaudel, H. (2018). Refugees’ right to work and access to labour markets: Constraints, challenges and ways forward. Forced Migration Review, (58), 4-7. 

8. Detaylar için bk. UN%20Environment%20Programme%20has,in%20carbon%2C%20resource%20efficient%20and 

9. ILO. (2008). Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World. WCMS_158727/lang–en/index.htm 

10. ILO & UNDP. (2022). Türkiye’de İklim Değişikliği ve Yeşil Ekonomi Politikalarının Sosyal ve İstihdam Etkiler WCMS_852774/lang–tr/index.htm 

11. Goldin, C., Katz, L. F. (2020). Extending the race between education and technology. AEA Papers and Proceedings, (110), s. 347-51. 

12. Silva, V. (2022). The ILO and the future of work: The politics of global labour policy. Global Social Policy, 22(2), s. 341-358. 

13. Chia, Y. Sheng, Y. Z. (2022). From Lifelong Learning to Lifelong Employability: How SkillsFuture Has Re-conceptualised Higher Education for the Future of Work. İçinde: LG, B. (ed.). Higher Education and Job Employability, s. 179-194. Springer. 

14. ILO. (2016). Research Department Working Paper n°29 The Future of Work: A Literature Review–en/index.htm

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