Syria’s economy loses its human capital

Crowding of Syrian citizens in the Immigration and Passports Directorate to obtain passports in Damascus - 2022 (SANA)

Crowding of Syrian citizens in the Immigration and Passports Directorate to obtain passports in Damascus - 2022 (SANA)


Enab Baladi – Yamen Moghrabi

The number of Syrians leaving for neighboring countries or Europe is increasing as the economic crisis continues, and there is no horizon for a political solution in their country.

The increasing migration directly affects the Syrian economy, which has been exhausted by the continuation of military operations for more than ten years since the Syrian regime chose to follow the security solution with the outbreak of peaceful popular demonstrations that demanded its departure in 2011, the cessation of production sectors, and the transformation of the Syrian economy into a war economy.

The labor force is one of the foundations upon which any strong economy is built, and it contributes directly to increasing the gross domestic product and high growth rates, in addition to its contribution to social capital.

As far as the effect of the absence of labor or human capital on the Syrian economy, it also contributes positively to the current difficult circumstances that the country is going through, through remittances coming from diaspora countries to families at home in various areas of control, which over the years has turned into a lifeline for Syrians inside the war-torn country.

Impact of the absence of human capital

According to the United Nations, there are 15.3 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, representing 70% of the people inside the country, and 90% of Syrians are below the poverty line, with 5.3 million Syrian refugees in countries neighboring Syria.

There are no accurate numbers of Syrians who left and were not registered as refugees, specifically in the countries to which Syrians move to search for job opportunities, such as Iraq, Egypt, and the UAE.

These numbers reflect two basic points: the first is the poor economic situation in the country, and the second is the extent of the loss to the human capital of the Syrian economy.

Economic researcher Dr. Firas Shaabo told Enab Baladi that all sectors of the Syrian economy are witnessing the migration of their workers, which is reflected in the quality of production and leads to the provision of weak services, with the inability to operate and high production costs in Syria.

The migration of human capital from Syria began in 2012, and experienced and skilled workers began moving from one city to another, before migrating outside the country, according to Mohammed al-Abdullah, a research fellow at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies.

Al-Abdullah pointed out in an interview with Enab Baladi that the most prominent economic sectors affected by the migration of Syrians are the productive sectors, given that they include good expertise.

He added that despite the military operations and the departure of many areas from the control of the Syrian regime, the period between 2012 and 2018 witnessed the continuation of some production sectors before the economic conditions deteriorated with the rise in the costs of raw materials and the difficulty of importing and exporting, paralyzing the production sectors.

Al-Abdullah believes that the current state of immigration is normal, given that the labor force no longer has any influence with the cessation of production sectors.

At a time when the Syrian economy lost its human capital, as it is a basic pillar of production, other countries benefited from it, whether neighboring Syria or European countries to which Syrians arrived during the past years, according to Shaabo. He added that Syrian immigrants directly contributed to supporting the economy in the country in which they live.

Impact of remittances

The migration of Syrians to other countries, whether as refugees or as workers, has contributed to finding an outlet to help improve the living conditions of the population, even if only slightly, through monthly money transfers sent to Syrian families from their children and relatives.

The regime does not announce the amount of money that Syrians transfer to their families at home, while the countries neighboring Syria represent 76% of the source of these transfers, according to a study published by the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies in 2021, with amounts estimated at $5.4 million per day.

According to al-Abdullah, remittances are a “lifeline” for those still living in Syria and are an essential source of funding for Syrians as well as for the Syrian regime.

The researcher in economics, Dr. Shaabo, believes that despite the loss of the Syrian regime and the economy’s working hand inside the country, it benefits from it through remittances, and the regime sought to guarantee its share of it by establishing exchange companies affiliated with economic figures affiliated with it, controlling them completely and setting a specific exchange rate for them. 

According to the remittances and banking bulletin issued by the Central Bank of Syria, the exchange rate of the US dollar stands at 11,500 Syrian pounds.

The US dollar is trading at 13,850 SYP according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar. At the start of the conflict in 2011, the dollar was trading at 47 pounds.

Reconstruction, Refugees return

Since the League of Arab States announced the return of the Syrian regime to occupy Syria’s seat last May, regime officials have linked the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland to the reconstruction process.

The Syrian regime is betting on the start of reconstruction and is promoting linking the return of refugees and departures to this step.

The head of the regime, Bashar al-Assad, during a television interview with the UAE-run Sky News Arabia last August, linked the two issues together, and considered that their return had stopped due to the reality of living conditions and the absence of services in the areas under the regime control.

Al-Assad also considered that the major obstacle facing the Syrian economy is “the destruction of infrastructure by terrorists” and the image of war that prevents investors from dealing with the Syrian market.

According to United Nations statistics, only 255,100 Syrians have returned to their areas in Syria, and only 58% of all refugees hope to return to Syria one day.

This vicious circle between reconstruction, the return of Syrians, international conditions, and the desires of al-Assad and the Syrian regime directly means that the return of the Syrian labor force and its supply to the local economy is not an easy matter to implement.

It is an issue as complex as the file itself, especially since the Syrian regime has not made any concessions regarding the return of Syrians to their cities.

According to the economic expert Shaabo, billions alone do not mean rebuilding what was destroyed, as the process essentially depends on capital and labor, and the absence of either of them means stopping the process, on the one hand.

On the other hand, there is no confidence in the Syrian regime currently, nor in its economy, which has turned into a war economy, especially with the presence of militias affiliated with it or with Iran on Syrian territory.

Meanwhile, Omran’s research fellow, al-Abdullah, believes that reconstruction does not mean the return of the labor force that migrated and settled abroad, especially after it acquired the culture of work in those markets, and in light of the economic, security, and political instability inside Syria.

He added that the Syrian labor force abroad has a greater financial income, has established relationships, and feels a minimum of stability, so the return of the labor force is not linked to reconstruction if the matter depends on the will of the people and it may be coercive through restrictions imposed on them by the countries in which they reside.

The regime is focusing on external Syrian capital and how it will return if the reconstruction process begins more than on the labor force, according to Omran’s think tank fellow.



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