Syrian Labour Migration to Foreign Markets

Workforce Looking for Markets

Syrian children working in a Lebanese land (TABITHA ROSS)

Syrian children working in a Lebanese land (TABITHA ROSS)


The development of a country has indicators and evidences that are not limited to the high level of education, services, healthcare and infrastructure. Any country’s regression has clear factors that might start with the absence of development means, and may reach worse aspects, such as the spread of unemployment, illiteracy, economic failure and the migration of young people from that country. This results in the lack of the appropriate brains that might contribute to the country’s development and find solutions to its problems, in addition to the lack of the needed workforce and skills to implement those solutions.

“Today, I finish my 21st year here in Saudi Arabia, and I thank God that I travelled despite my family’s disapproval at the time,” says Mr. Noman, a 42-year-old car repair workshop owner in Saudi Arabia. He adds, “I was not successful at school overall, so I decided to drop out of the school in the Eighth class, and I performed several occupations until I settled down with a car mechanic, I liked repairing cars and its earnings are excellent for those who master it, and so I learned car repairing in three years during which I stayed with my boss before being called to the compulsory military service.

Do you want a worker?

After two years of disruption, Noman returned to the car repairing occupation he loved before serving in the military, but he was looking for a better salary than he could get as a wage earner in a workshop. Therefore, he started looking for work. “I searched a lot, and I informed everyone I know. I wanted to open a workshop for myself, but my family’s financial situation did not help. Thus, when my uncle told me that I might find a job opportunity in Saudi Arabia, I did not hesitate. There are much better wages there, and this type of skills is very much required”

The travel and visa procedures were not as complicated as they are now for Syrians, and despite Noman’s family strong disapproval, he insisted on travelling, and so in few months he travelled to Saudi Arabia and started his journey there.


Like all immigrants, Noman’s journey was not paved with roses, but he had to endure many obstacles. “I faced countless difficulties at the beginning, not only racism and occasional insults, but also the difficulty of dealing with different nationalities like Indians and Bengalis, or sleeping in the workshop in harsh conditions for someone who used to live in the Eastern Ghouta with its orchards and cool atmosphere.”

Despite all the odds, Noman was determined to succeed. He adds, “This is why I was patient and I did not give up, until after two years, thanks to God I was able to saving money, and with the help of my older brother and my uncle, I was able to open a small workshop with a license that I obtained under my uncle’s name.”

Almost a year later, he brought his younger brother in, and so the three brothers worked and sent money to help their family.

“Trust and honesty are the most important elements in this occupation, and that was what we have always been seeking. This had a perfect impact on the reputation of our work and workshop, and we started expanding our work little by little,” says Noman.


After several years of working and improving their financial situation, Noman and his brothers married Syrian women and later brought their wives in. He says, “Every day we spend in Saudi Arabia it becomes harder for us to return to Syria. My job here is stable, my life is good, we have children who  go to the middle school, we have friends and family and we visit each other. In the summer, my brothers and I used to go to Syria alternately. One of us would stay to run the workshop, and two of us would go to visit the family in Syria. However, after the revolution, we were no longer able to visit our family because of the security conditions there, but thank God, we are still good and we are always in touch with our family.


Like millions of Syrians, Mohammed, 37 years old, left Syria in 2012, in light of the increasing military escalation on his hometown Homs. He headed to Turkey at that time. He said, “It was like a suicide to stay in Homs with my wife and three children under missiles and raids. Therefore, we left Syria, let behind our dreams and the stability we have been living in for years, and went to a completely unknown society.”

In Turkey, Mohammed had to find a job before he runs out of money. He says, “I worked in Syria as a chef in several restaurants, pastries, “shawarma” and fast food, which is the only thing I have mastered. Therefore, I looked for a job in this field. When I travelled to Turkey, there were no Syrian restaurants like today, so I worked with Turkish people under harsh working conditions.”

Unfair working conditions

In the absence of work permits, Mohammed’s work in a Turkish restaurant was illegal, and the minimum wage or social security laws did not apply to him like other Turkish workers. He says, “My salary could hardly cover my family’s house rent and their food. I tried to find a job with better working terms, but every time I was the victim of abuse, in addition to the increase in the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey, which prevented me from asking for a better salary, as the restaurant’s owner would easily fire me with the existence of thousands of other refugees who were willing to work and get this salary.


After a year and a half, Mohammed’s patience was in vain. He continues, “I felt that staying in Turkey was useless. Everything is unfair for us here. We are treated as second- or third-degree human beings because we are refugees though we were paying taxes and bills like the Turkish people. I found thousands of Syrians that were moving across the sea to Europe. There, they can at least get enough help until they could get stable living conditions and could improve their situation.”

Thus, he started thinking about moving to Europe, despite the high costs this matter requires for a refugee. “All the countries outside my home country are the same, I travel to where there is a better chance for me and my family,” he says.

We die together or we survive together

“Either we die together or we survive together” This was Mohammed’s wife response on his decision to migrate alone. He says, ” After I made my decision to travel by sea alone, and to reunite my family later, I was surprised that my wife has strongly disapproved, fearing that I might face an unknown fate. Under her insistence and tears, I had to secure enough money for the whole family’s migration. The only solution was to sell my share of my family’s home in Homs, and then we started the procedures to communicate with a trustworthy human smuggler.”

After several months of planning and implementation, in the summer of 2014, the family had been in a refugee camp in Germany. Mohammed points out that ” mobility had its costs. Every time the Syrians travel to a new country, the stability alarm goes off. In the camp, we had again faced an unknown fate, in a new society, and we had to build our stability and our lives from scratch.”

Aid Queues

After three years of living in Germany, Mohammed is now working at a Syrian “shawarma” restaurant in Berlin. He says, “Thank God, my situation has completely changed for the better. I do not deny that I felt so desperate so many times, I hated my life and I fell apart. However, every time I get stronger for the sake of my wife and children. When we got asylum for three years and went out of the refugee camp to our own house, our financial as well as = psychological situation have highly improved. I relied on the financial aid we were provided as refugees at first until I learned the language and settled. I later started looking for a job in my field of work as a chef. This job was demanded because of the large numbers of Syrians in Germany, who are looking for Syrian meals that remind them of the smell and taste of their country.”

Mohammed continues after few moments of silence, “The Syrian is accustomed to the difficult circumstances. He has a very strong will. We are people who refuse to give up and we have migrated to escape the war, but we want to work with dignity and earn our living with our own efforts, and we don’t want to wait in the aid queues.

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