Find our offices around the world

Get in touch, share your ideas, and discover how we can work together for a sustainable, just, and equitable future.


UNDP Global

A woman processes olives in a field in Turkey.
In Turkey, some 2,000 Syrian refugees and host community members gained access to income generating opportunities through the establishment of an organic olive oil processing facility. UNDP photo

At the 2016 London Conference on Supporting Syria and the Region, the international community made a bold political target – akin to a collective outcome – of achieving 1.1 million jobs for people affected by the Syria crisis by the end of 2018.  Though ambitious, this is an important commitment by national governments, humanitarian and development partners.

Over 5.5 million registered Syrian refugees reside in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. The prolonged and escalated crisis has deeply impacted the livelihoods of refugees, the internally displaced, the host communities and other vulnerable population groups in these countries, including Syria itself. Besides protection, there is a need to identify, create and sustain livelihood opportunities.    

What is a livelihood?

A livelihood comprises of assets— both material and social, capabilities and the activities that individuals and communities do for their means of living. At the same time, access and ability to use physical, natural, social, political, financial and human assets or capitals determine the wellbeing. These assets are the building blocks for livelihoods.  

How do we achieve livelihood goals?

Employment or jobs is an important factor of livelihood as part of the financial capital. However, jobs are not the only issue. There are many challenges to overcome in order to create sustainable jobs, for example, pre-existing high levels of unemployment, reduced private sector investment, collapse of inclusive employment-rich economic growth, and a decline of social capital, particularly the ‘bridging’ networks that reach across ethnic or communal divides.

While it is not possible for one agency to create 1.1 million jobs in the countries affected by the Syria crisis within three years, there is a ray of hope with the coming together of international community, national governments, UN agencies, private sector, civil society and the host communities.

The good news is that the reserve of socio-economic assets, human capital, functioning institutions and a formal economy still work in most of the countries. Hence there is a need for Syria and the neighbouring countries to make concerted efforts to create an enabling environment with a focus on political, physical, natural, social, human and financial assets.

What has our intervention been?

The UN Post Conflict Policy on Employment Creation, Income Generation and Reintegration (2008) whose development was led by UNDP and ILO has taught us that partnership and collaborative efforts are key to integrated policy and programming. The international community can help local and national governments and their partners achieve a collective outcome on jobs and livelihoods following a three-track approach:

  1. Stabilizing livelihoods through income generation and emergency employment;
  2. Local economic recovery for employment and reintegration; and
  3. Sustainable employment creation and decent work.
Lebanon has begun waiving residency fees for some Syrian refugees, improving their freedom of movement and access to livelihoods. Photo: UNDP Lebanon


The Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan  (3RP) continues to be the regional coordination and planning tool to address the humanitarian and resilience needs of Syrian refugees and host communities in the affected countries. UNDP is at the front and centre of the support provided to affected groups in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. UNDP works together with UNHCR as the co-chair of the 3RP (at regional and country levels) and respective governments, to bring together the UN and non-UN agencies to ensure a sustained, well-coordinated response, in support of host Governments to expand economic opportunities and livelihoods for the affected people.  For example:

  • In Lebanon, a new policy now in place allows for the waiver of the annual residency fees for certain Syrian refugees, thereby facilitating access to legal residency status, improved freedom of movement and better access to livelihoods. Residency has therefore been identified as a key issue for Syrian Refugees and having the correct residency papers will greatly facilitate them in accessing jobs and sustainable livelihoods.
  • In Jordan, the cumulative number of work permit files that the Ministry of Labour has worked on (either issued or renewed from January 2016 to end of February 2018) is around 90,000.  In Turkey, a Work Permit Regulation adopted in January 2016 allows Syrians under Temporary Protection to engage in formal employment. To date, some 36,000 work permits have been issued. The advocacy for permits is led by ILO and UNHCR.
  • By the end of 2017, UNDP in Turkey supported 2,000 Syrian refugees and host community members to benefit from income generating opportunities through the establishment of an organic olive oil processing facility in Kilis. Over 8,560 Syrian men and women in the host communities were reached through empowerment and social cohesion activities in 13 different multi-purpose community centers. Over 5,442 Syrians attended vocational training courses in more than 20 different occupations, basic life skills and Turkish language trainings—over 45 percent were female participants.
  • In 2017, UNDP in Syria helped rebuild the lives and livelihoods of 4,647,744 crisis-affected persons, 547,774 of whom benefited directly from the implemented livelihoods activities. The livelihoods sector partners assisted over 64,000 refugees and host community members through job and language training as well as job referral services in the areas of retail sales, food processing, data entry, ICT and electronics.

Although a major stride, this is not enough! Governments in the affected countries, UN agencies, the private sector and all relevant stakeholders should agree on a new collective outcome, approach and strategy to scale-up the work on sustainable livelihoods and economic opportunities. The need to significantly boost jobs and livelihoods initiatives and opportunities cannot be overemphasized. Only then can the need for jobs and livelihoods in such a complex emergency be effectively addressed.

About the author

Owen Shumba is the team leader for the Livelihoods and Economic Recovery Group in the UNDP Bureau for Policy and Programme Support. Follow him on Twitter: @OwenShumba