To secure a living, Syrian graphic designers provide distance low-wage services

A graphic designer working on designing a commercial advertisement - October 21, 2023 (Enab Baladi)

A graphic designer working on designing a commercial advertisement - October 21, 2023 (Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Muhammed Fansa

“Remote work for clients outside Syria is better because the payment is often in USD, but locally, the small wage is not enough due to long working hours,” Rania tells Enab Baladi about the reasons behind distance and freelancing work for clients outside Syria, despite the many problems and challenges that may result from this process.

Rania (who requested to withhold her full name for security reasons) shares this trend with many people, not only in her southern Daraa governorate but throughout Syria. Young graphic designers, web programs, and audiovisual technicians who provide paid services via the Internet, such as designing images of all kinds (company logos, brochures, book covers, and others), producing or modifying video clips, programming and designing websites, through intermediary websites that bring together providers of these services and those searching for them.

Private institutes are widespread and offer educational courses specializing in teaching the aforementioned fields, while some people learn from free open sources on the Internet.

The demand for learning graphic design and web programming has increased due to their high income compared to other professions, especially when working for clients outside Syria, as the wage is in foreign currencies, in light of the deteriorating value of the pound and the decline in the value of wages in general due to the deteriorating economic situation.

On the other hand, the owners of these professions suffer from common difficulties related to the nature of the profession, which requires sitting in front of a computer screen for long hours, and others specific to those residing in Syria, from constant power outages, poor Internet speed, and a reduction in their wages due to the lack of a direct payment method and relying on official transfer methods that exchange foreign currency for local currency at a value lower than that used in the markets.

Multiple challenges

Rania told Enab Baladi that one of the drawbacks of her work, which she started years ago, “is that it requires long, exhausting hours of unlimited duration in front of the computer screen, which affects my psychological state.”

The young woman mainly works on separate projects for foreign clients outside Syria, but due to the lack of intensity of work and its interruption for days or weeks sometimes, she offers training courses in an educational center in her city for those interested in learning the same field.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) said in September that more than 13 million people worldwide suffer from visual impairment due to their work, with an estimated 3.5 million eye injuries occurring in the workplace each year, representing 1% of all non-fatal occupational injuries.

Rania has implemented many projects for clients from Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, and the Emirates through websites specializing in connecting online workers in various fields with those searching for these services, noting the importance of the designer marketing his work in order to obtain clients, as an additional task for his work.

Despite the technical development that has helped in reaching clients from outside the country, Syrians face problems in working remotely, including what Rania mentioned of project owners “arguing” over wages and specifications of the required project, threatening to resort to other designers to submit to their conditions, without taking any consideration for the designer’s craftsmanship and the creativity of his designs.

Rania’s monthly income amounts to an average of $200 from her work in technical design and graphics for foreign clients, but she always loses part of her wages due to the way wages are received and the requirement for foreign clients to pay only through official transfer channels.

Rania receives her wages in the form of transfers via the Western Union company, which in turn delivers the amount in Syria exclusively in Syrian pounds and at the exchange rate of the Central Bank of Syria, which differs in the price of one dollar from the black market by several thousand Syrian pounds. Above all, the transfer fees are deducted from her own dues, she added.

The exchange rate of one dollar, according to the Remittances and Exchange bulletin, reached 12,600 Syrian pounds on December 12, while its price reached 14,050 Syrian pounds on the black market, according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar.

Many Syrians in the poverty-ravaged country, especially women, resort to learning electronic design skills in various fields (images, websites, editing video clips) through training courses in search of job opportunities in specializations that can be performed from home, according to what Enab Baladi monitored.

According to the ILO report issued last August on the needs of families affected by the earthquake in Aleppo, the most important challenges facing women at work were related to the distance of the workplace from their home, the requirement to work night shifts, or the presence of children who need care, in addition to the decrease in poor wages and working conditions.

Helpful AI sites, but blocked

Fadi, of Damascus suburbs, explained some of the difficulties he faces in external work as a photo designer and product photographer, such as that working remotely in the field of design does not allow the designer to get to know the client’s personality and give him a project that “suits his taste,” and it is also difficult to explain the client’s requirements for the project.

Depending on the designer’s vision, the possibility increases that the client will reject the project or request many “exhausting” modifications.

Fadi (who requested to withhold his full name for security reasons) estimated that about 30% of the remote clients are “fraudsters” who refuse to pay the agreed-upon work fees after receiving the project, explaining that it is not possible to discover the nature of the client until after the work is completed. Any customer refuses to make advance payments, and the matter is limited to promises only, without a written contract or legal body that preserves his rights, he added.

Fadi faced many problems during the process of transferring his wages in Syria, the most important of which was the failure of any foreigner to agree to transfer money except through licensed and official offices that deal at Central Bank rates, and thus, he lost part of the value of his wages.

To avoid this problem, Fadi went to work only with Syrians abroad, as the majority of them have relatives in Syria who transfer money to them in unofficial ways, so Fadi receives his wages from the client’s relatives according to the black market exchange rate.

In the majority of countries in the world, the remote service provider receives his wages via direct electronic payment into bank accounts in the same agreed-upon currency, but due to the lack of popularity of dealing with bank accounts in Syria or the dealings of foreign companies with banks in Syria, Syrians are deprived of this advantage.

Poor Internet service, long power outages

Other difficulties faced by Syrians working on remote projects include poor Internet speed, long periods of power outages necessary for work, and their failure to benefit from global websites that provide artificial intelligence services and facilitate their field of work, according to Fadi.

The authorities are blocking the websites of the most popular artificial intelligence tools, such as ChatGPT, Google Bard, and some of the most important sites for generating images through word descriptions.

The most important programs for designing, creating, and editing images and video clips from Adobe are among the paid programs that Syrians cannot purchase online because there are no bank accounts supported by the company in Syria, which forces them to use pirated copies of the program.

A study by the International Labor Organization, released last August, found that the threat of generative artificial intelligence to office work is greater than others, as it is capable of producing texts, images, sounds, animation, 3D models, and other data, and it is expected that a quarter of work tasks will become highly vulnerable to automation. 

According to ILO estimates, before the COVID-19 crisis, there were approximately 260 million home-based workers worldwide, representing 7.9% of global employment, and 56% of them were women.

The report says home-based businesses are likely to continue to grow in the coming years, renewing the urgent need to address the issues facing home-based workers and employers.



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