Decent and Sustainable Job Opportunities for Refugees and Host Communities in Turkish Textile Sector

What is the project about?

The project is designed to build resilience and social cohesion of Syrians and Turkish host communities through decent and formal employment and sustainable livelihoods and is expected to help the socio-economic recovery of the refugees and their host communities and enhance the self-reliance of refugees reducing the dependency on cash assistance such as the ESSN or other humanitarian programmes.

The aim of the project is to create an action plan to promote the inclusion of refugees and vulnerable host community members in the textile sector, analyze the current needs and gaps as well as the current situation of employers and employees in the Turkish textile sector, and develop modalities on how to better support the private sector as well as vulnerable refugee and host community members for inclusive and sustainable economic growth.


What has been the situation?

Türkiye hosts the largest refugee population in the world with 3.724.240 million registered Syrians under temporary protection (SuTPs)1 and some 320,000 refugees and asylum seekers under international protection.2 As a result of instability and conflict in Syria since March 2011, the number of officially registered Syrian refugees in Türkiye has been relatively stable since 2017 and a large-scale return to Syria is unlikely despite the political and social pressure. Some 99 percent of SuTPs reside within the host community, and over 2.2 million live in Istanbul and major cities of the Southeast region where manufacturing, especially textile, automobile and food production make predominantly a large portion of the economy. The high number and geographic concentration of refugees exert a significant strain on livelihoods, public resources, social cohesion, and basic services in those locations.  

Out of the 3.7 SuTPs, 1.8 million are the recipient of the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) program, which helped to reduce poverty indicators among beneficiaries. Yet, ESSN increases dependency on assistance, aggravates the already precarious social cohesion, and does not offer a sustainable solution to the protracted crisis situation of refugees. A transition process from ESSN to employment is planned by GoT and by the European Union (EU) where the transition from ESSN to livelihoods will be one of the key priorities within the refugee context of Türkiye that requires resilient-focused and development-driven solutions.  

Temaporary Protection (TP) Regulation granted to SuTPs gives the right to lawfully stay in Türkiye, enabling their access to housing, public services (including health and education), and leading to their legal access to the labour market.4 On the other hand, although SuTPs are authorized to work formally, according to the International Labor Organization, out of 2.16 million Syrians of working age in Türkiye, only 1 million participate in the labour market, most of them informally in low-skilled and low-paid jobs. Lack of awareness of the regulation of work permits by employers and long processing times of the permit applications as well as in numerous cases, the unwillingness of employers and employees to get a work permit hinders the formalization of work since work permits for wage employment are lodged by employers. Travel restrictions, language barriers, gaps in the skills and competencies of refugees, diploma accreditation issues and insufficient experience or exploitation as a cheap workforce remain essential challenges for the socio-economic integration of Syrians into the Turkish labour market. Although the shadow economy facilitated the quick absorption and employability of refugees in the early years, it is now necessary to adopt policies and administrative measures to draw them into the formal labour market. In a context of heightened social tensions between social groups, it has become imperative to promote the creation and attainment of formal employment as a key driver of sustainable integration. 

The outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact further exacerbated the existing socio-economic vulnerabilities among both refugee and host communities who are increasingly struggling to meet their basic needs due to the inflation at a time when many lost their jobs. Not only the initial Covid-19 measures have worsened the precarity of Syrians more than host communities in employment, wealth, and education, among other variables, it also had a negative impact on attitudes towards refugees.

Due to the economic downturn which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the labor market in Türkiye has been contracting for the past few years. It has become increasingly difficult for even skilled employees to find jobs in the formal sector. Exploitation as cheap workforce and bad working, housing and living conditions have been exacerbated by post- pandemic challenging and increased further the vulnerability of refugees, leading to negative coping strategies such as early marriage, child work, selling assets, drug abuse and gender-based violence. 

SuTPs are facing significant challenges to find formal job opportunities because of the language barrier and mismatch or lack of skills. This has also led to difficulties for SuTPs in terms of social integration, ensuring self-reliance and access to proper information and counseling on employment services and opportunities. Lessons learnt from ESSN implementation as well as livelihood interventions under the scope of the Türkiye Chapter of the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) demonstrate not only the need to address the lack of market-relevant skills among the targeted population but also to tackle private sector demands and challenges. Refugees in Türkiye, Lebanon and Jordan suffer from precarious and insecure working conditions, especially in the textile, agriculture, automotive sectors.  


What is our mission?

As the co-lead UN Agency of 3RP Livelihoods Sector, UNDP is contributing to sustainable livelihoods solutions for refugees and host communities through its resilience-based development approach well adapted to protracted crisis contexts in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Global Compact on Refugees.

UNDP is also one of the leading agencies on the achievement of SDG 5 Gender Equality, incorporating a gender perspective and upholding gender equality in all its projects, among other gender-related considerations. Focusing on resilience building, local economic development, capacity building of national and provincial institutions, social cohesion and economic infrastructure, UNDP has been working with a wide range of local administrations and national institutions, Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Organized Industrial Zones, private sector leads, civil society organizations and other UN agencies working for refugees mainly in Gaziantep, Hatay, Mersin, Adana, Gaziantep, Kilis, Şanlıurfa, Mardin, İzmir and İstanbul.

In this context of a protracted crisis situation followed by a post-pandemic economic recession, UNDP has been implementing Technical and Vocational Education and Trainings (TVET), job creation and matching programs for refugees and host communities since 2014 in response to the Syria crisis to support the refugees in building resilience through skills development, business consultancy, employment, formalization of existing jobs, as well as language courses and social cohesion activities; and to support the Government of Türkiye to cope with the pressures of hosting the largest refugee population in the world.

Within the scope of the Project, UNDP will be supporting the partner organization, Istanbul Textile and Apparel Exporters’ Association (ITKIB), to accelerate the process through the provision of technical support in meeting the necessary criteria such as but not limited to the use of sustainable materials, renewable energy, recycling, engaging in sustainable fashion or eco-fashion, safe and fair working environment, and gender equality.

ITKIB will help identify textile manufacturers, suppliers and international brands that will comply with key criteria and principles set out by essential UN and governmental documents and acts can also provide its sectoral technical expertise in the successful implementation of activities. Two key sub-structures of partner organization, ITKIB, namely Istanbul Fashion Academy (IMA) established by IHKIB (Istanbul Apparel Exporters Association), the Turkish Ministry of Commerce and IHKIB will further support the project implementation with a focus on sustainable fashion, decent work, digital transformation in Turkish textile sector. 


How are we doing this?

The project will be based on a local socio-economic development approach. This includes the design and implementation of modalities aimed at reducing vulnerabilities and contributing to individuals, communities, local and national institutions to be able to better cope with and recover from the impact of the crisis.  

In order to address high levels of unemployment amongst both SuTP and host community members and to contribute to increasing labour-market absorption and growth capacity, the Project offers a holistic approach to concomitantly address the challenges, needs and opportunities from both the supply and demand side of the labour market by a private-sector driven approach in identifying the needs and gaps in the market, developing training curriculum, defining selection criteria and providing on-the-jobs trainings and job opportunities which is designed together with ITKIB and its member companies, based on their specific needs and complemented with on-the-job training at their premises and job placement. This approach will ensure that TVET design and delivery are based on addressing the apparel, textile, and leather sectors' needs. As a result, trainees would have higher opportunities to be hired officially and in a sustainable manner. Overall, the Project will provide much needed support to reduce real and perceived levels of competition over access to jobs and will respond to a strong call for job creation. In doing so, the Project will reduce potential risks of social tensions, increase the self-reliance of SuTP and improve the integration of SuTP into host communities. 

On the other hand, the Project offers a potential beneficial partnership between UNDP and GoT in their efforts to achieve sustainable development goals leaving no one behind, as well as ITKIB as a pioneer private sector partner. UNDP can leverage its experience and field presence, while ITKIB can mobilize its member companies to launch a TVET programme which will be designed together with ITKIB and its member companies, based on their specific needs and complemented with on-the-job training at their premises and job placement. This approach will ensure that TVET design and delivery are market needs-based matching the textile sector needs. As a result, trainees would have higher opportunities to be hired officially and in a sustainable manner.  

Within the Project’s activities;

Firstly, a needs assessment will be conducted in order to define the specific needs and gaps of the private sector companies in the apparel, textile and leather sectors in terms of sub-sectors, training curriculum, locations and number of employees.

Secondly, the project will address the problems related to the exploitation of the refugee workforce by providing formal jobs and decent working conditions, raising awareness for providing decent work conditions to all and creating a culture of coexistence among prominent private sector pioneers in the textile sector.  

Based on NA findings and project results, 3 key Knowledge Products, namely a Report on Findings and Recommendations for the Turkish Textile Sector, a Roadmap and a Checklist will be developed and disseminated through a launching event at the end of the project. 

Thirdly, ahead of the preparation of a new funding period for refugees in Türkiye, and the ESSN transition process, the Project will serve as a pilot programme and case study where the good practices and lessons learnt may be used in the design of livelihoods projects in near future.  


How will Turkey benefit?

The objectives of the Project are aligned with the priorities of the 3RP and the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework for Türkiye and are directly contributing to the operationalizing of the humanitarian-development nexus through its focus on employment generation in the short-term while supporting the transformation of the textile sector in the medium to long term to comply with green agenda contributing to the development of an environment conducive for human security and peaceful coexistence at the community level and the promotion of universal values. 

In addition, increasing institutional capacity and coordination mechanisms at local, regional, and national levels and raising awareness of decent working conditions will be key to fighting against unacceptable forms of work including child labour. The project will support the capacity of sector manufacturers and will also support policy development to promote the principles of decent work. An awareness raising campaign will be implemented targeting the textile sector pioneers and the successful results of the project will serve as a good practice both for sector manufacturers and will serve as a pilot case for future projects at a larger scale.  



November 2022


June 2023






United Nations Development Programme









Full Project information