Syrians only option in Middle Eastern agriculture: Findings from the ‘refugee labour under lockdown’ project. (English)
This study explores the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on refugee labour in Middle Eastern agriculture, drawing on results from two remote ethnographic studies:From the FIELD (2020) and Refugee Labour under Lockdown (2020/21). Both projects were a collaboration with Syrian scholars affiliated with the Cara Syria Programme and, in the case of Refugee Labour under Lockdown, the Turkish non-profit cooperative Development Workshop. We begin by situating our findings in the context of three factors that put Syrian refugee in a vulnerable position at the beginning of the pandemic: host countries’ use of legal ambiguity for governing refugees, Middle Eastern agriculture’s reliance on migrant labour, and the region’s longstanding food insecurity. The From the FIELD project found that COVID-19 began not as a health crisis, but as an economic crisis for refugees who lost their jobs due to pandemic-related movement restrictions and became food insecure. The Refugee Labour under Lockdown project confirmed that unemployment was only temporary for many, but exacerbated job insecurity in already volatile labour markets and relationships of dependency with intermediaries, many of whom are refugees’ next of kin. We conclude that instead of further upskilling refugees, humanitarian actors and decision-makers should acknowledge Syrians as experts of agricultural livelihoods and give them a say in the formulation of sustainable development policies.