Strategies and Recommendations from North and East Syria
Written By: Renas Sino, Founder & CEO of TEVIN
In this paper, we addressed how to enhance youth participation in the labor market in North and East Syria, providing an overview of the challenges and opportunities available to them. We focused specifically on the importance of integrating youth into the economy through education, vocational training, and entrepreneurship. We explored the role of local civil society organizations in supporting youth through policy development, capacity building, promoting entrepreneurship, and providing employment and training opportunities.
We also discussed the role of donors and international organizations, in individual sessions and dialog meetings, how these entities can contribute to the economic integration of youth, including providing funding, technical support, and focusing on sustainability. We analyzed data on the population census in Syria and unemployment rates, focusing on differences in unemployment rates and their impact on shaping economic policies. We highlighted the importance of youth in innovation, entrepreneurship, and workforce development, as well as their role in achieving cultural and social change and their impact on labor market dynamics.
This paper is a comprehensive summary of multiple discussions conducted by TEVIN with a group of youth through individual meetings and sessions, on the role of youth in the economy, and the mechanisms through which they can be supported in different environments like North and East Syria, with a focus on political, developmental, and social aspects.
This paper follows an analytical approach to the labor market, economic policies, demographic shifts, and the customs and laws that influence youth engagement in the labor market. It relies on descriptive data obtained through an online group discussion session with 14 participants and individual interviews conducted by the researcher with 20 participants from various regions and cultural backgrounds, and from different professional sectors including civil activists and private sector employees.
Current Economic Landscape
As the Syrian crisis approaches its thirteenth year, the economic situation has deteriorated due to the absence of stability and security, the destruction of infrastructure, factories, and the decline in agriculture's contribution to the GDP. The severe economic crisis was accompanied by unemployment and job scarcity, and the significant devaluation of the Syrian pound against the US dollar, leading to a decrease in the income of Syrians, especially those working in the public sector of the Syrian government. A similar situation is faced by those working in the public sector of the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria, even though their salaries are higher than those in the Syrian government.
Regarding trade, reports indicate that it has become controlled by specific groups, negatively impacting the fair distribution of wealth and increasing economic disparity. These few groups that benefited from trade during the war have significantly increased their influence and dominance over the economy. The prices of goods and services have noticeably been affected, accompanied by a decrease in citizens' purchasing power, significantly impacting their ability to afford daily living costs.
One interviewee stated, "The economic situation is bad due to the absence of sufficient salaries or income for families to secure basic needs. For example, there are families who haven't eaten meat for many months, and some cannot afford clothing for their children due to high prices."
The World Bank, in a report titled "Syria's Earthquake 2023: A Rapid Assessment of Damage and Needs," forecasts that the real GDP is expected to decrease by 3.2% in 2023, following a 3.5% decline in 2022. The conflict, rising input costs, and water scarcity are expected to limit crop production. Additionally, fuel shortages may weaken manufacturing and disrupt transportation and services. Inflation rates are expected to decrease but remain high in 2023 due to the fluctuations in the exchange rate and the ongoing shortages of food and fuel, along with further subsidy cuts. The risks to growth forecasts are significant and tend to be negative. Recurrent climate shocks could severely impact crops and agricultural livelihoods. The ongoing war in Ukraine could lead to higher prices for essential commodities, negatively affecting Syria as an importer of food and energy. A lack of healthcare facilities could exacerbate the rapid spread of infectious diseases.
Youth have been noticeably affected by Syria's economic downturn, leading to a significant rise in their unemployment rates. Faced with this harsh reality, youth find themselves forced to choose between difficult and limited options: joining armed groups and working as fighters or seeking better life opportunities by migrating abroad. This situation results from the lack of employment opportunities that allow them to live decently and develop their skills.
University corridors, once bustling with dreams and aspirations, have become grounds for questioning the value of education, as graduates find themselves in a job market that cannot accommodate their ambitions. Engineers hold accounting notebooks instead of drafting tools, and IT experts find themselves organizing clothing shelves instead of programming codes. This contradiction between specialization and job field reveals a deep paradox in the economy and job market’s structure.
This situation highlights the urgent need for new economic and educational strategies focusing on providing suitable and sustainable job opportunities for youth, aligning with their skills and education. It's also essential to develop training and qualification programs that align with the changing demands of the job market, ensuring their ability to contribute effectively to rebuilding and developing their communities.
One participant in the meetings said that "the economy is suffering from a recession due to the oversupply exceeding demand, and the war economy has led to an increase in the number of displaced people in various areas due to damage in their original regions. This has led to wage decreases in some sectors, mainly affecting the working class."
According to the latest geographical survey of the country, the Central Bureau of Statistics estimated Syria's population on December 1, 2023, to be about 28.5 million. However, the website Population Pyramid estimated Syria's population at 23.2 million, with the age group between 15 and 24 years old comprising 24.1% of the population. This statistic included 5.5 million internally displaced persons and 6.5 million refugees, according to the latest UNHCR count in 2023. The United Nations estimated Syria's population in 2021 at 18.2 million, according to UN data. There is a clear discrepancy between the population estimates in Syria, which can reflect challenges in data collection or different estimates based on various criteria. This presents a significant challenge for planning.
The country is currently experiencing very difficult economic conditions due to the lack of job opportunities and limited financial resources. This economic deterioration is accelerating with the increasing cost of living and the devaluation of the national currency. Inflation in the job market and rising prices pose additional challenges, leading to a sharp decline in the citizens' purchasing power.
It is noted that the age group between 15 and 24 years old forms an important percentage according to Population Pyramid and represents a significant part of the future workforce, having a substantial impact on economic and educational policies. With nearly half of these age groups being women, there is a challenge in enhancing women's participation in the labor market and ensuring equal opportunities for them in education and employment. Additionally, the presence of 6.5 million refugees and 5.5 million internally displaced persons reflects the significant humanitarian and economic challenges facing the country. This requires special attention to integrating refugees and internally displaced persons into the labor market and ensuring they have access to educational and training opportunities
The challenges facing Youth
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics in Syria, in 2011, the unemployment rate among youth was 10.4%, and among women was 37.1%, while the overall unemployment rate was 14.9%. Due to the lack of accurate statistics, estimates by those working in public affairs indicate that the unemployment rate in Syria varies from region to region; it exceeded 80% in the northwest and over 50% in areas controlled by the Syrian government. In Autonomous Administration areas, the unemployment rate exceeded 20%."
The latest UNICEF report in Syria, titled "The State's General Budget in the Syrian Arab Republic for the year 2023," states: "Unemployment is one of the most significant challenges, especially among females. The economic collapse caused widespread unemployment, and after a sharp increase between 2010 and 2015, unemployment rates began to decrease in 2016 but have not yet returned to pre-crisis levels. Between 2019 and 2020, rate among the female labor force, on average, was about four times higher than male. This gap has slightly narrowed between 2020 and 2021. The male unemployment rate increased by 3.2%, while the female unemployment rate decreased by 6.1%. Generally, unemployment stabilised at 20% in 2020-2021, the lowest level since 2013.
All indicators, reports, and interviews suggest that the unemployment rate among the 15-24 age group is very high in North and East Syria due to various economic, political, and social factors. Foremost among these challenges are the other negative impacts of the conflict, such as the destruction of infrastructure and loss of lives, creating social and psychological shock affecting overall stability. Additionally, in armed conflicts, state budgets tend to prioritize military allocations over investing in service sectors, and governments lean towards recruiting youth instead of providing them with job opportunities. The conflict has also hindered movement between different areas, thus limiting job opportunities for youth elsewhere. For example, during harvest seasons, youth and their families would move to other provinces to work in orchards and fields, which has been affected by the conflict. The contribution of the industrial and private sectors in providing job opportunities for youth has decreased due to the closure of many factories and the emigration of much capital abroad.
Education is one of the main challenges facing youth in the job market. Although the literacy rate (reading and writing) among the population over 15 years old in Syria reached 79.6%, interviews conducted showed that the main obstacle for youth entering the job market is education, especially vocational education. The absence of economic strategies linking education and development leads to an imbalance between market needs and educational specializations. For instance, there is an increasing need for doctors and postgraduates to fill in the absence of university professors, but there are no clear plans to meet this need.
With the absence of vocational education, the educational journey is long for the younger generations amidst economic difficulties and the lack of temporary or part-time job opportunities to cover study costs. Therefore, many youths cannot continue their education, and if they manage to finish their university education, they consider emigration due to the lack of job opportunities and low wages, in addition to mandatory military conscription for young people, which can extend to several years during wartime. Migration, declining education levels, and changing patterns of required work skills have led to a loss of young human resources needed for development processes.
One interviewee stated, "The conflicts have affected the few available job opportunities, and when they are available, they often involve long hours and low wages, leading many youths to consider emigrating abroad in search of a better livelihood."
Finally, social factors are a hindrance to youth, especially women, as interviews conducted have shown that there is still unwelcome behavior in some communities towards working women, particularly in displacement camps and some tribal areas. As for young men, their options are limited to either military conscription or emigration. Due to competition in the job market, the need for significant experience has become an obstacle for young people, reflecting the absence of specific policies for youth, such as part-time work hours or suitable employment requirements and conditions, in addition to policies that help married women with children.
The Role of Youth in Economic Development
In general, the energy, creativity, and unique perspectives of youth are indispensable assets in driving economic growth and development. Their engagement and empowerment can have a profound and lasting impact on the economic trajectory of societies. Youth are often at the forefront of technological progress and innovation. They tend to adopt and develop new technologies, which can lead to increased productivity and the creation of new industries. However, the infrastructure and the level of technological education in North and East Syria are not yet sufficient to transform these into new industries.
Regarding entrepreneurship, there has been a weak inclination to take risks in starting new businesses due to the lack of security and political stability, the key elements of stable economies. Consequently, these entrepreneurial ventures have not significantly contributed to creating job opportunities, stimulating economic growth, or offering new solutions to labor market needs.
Normally, youth seek education and training, contributing to human capital development. However, this reality has changed significantly after 12 years of conflict in Syria. According to Population Pyramid, the youth make up 24.1% of the population, a percentage that does not suggest a strong young workforce, attributed to armed conflict and youth migration due to the lack of economic opportunities. Young workers are crucial in shaping labor market dynamics. They often occupy entry-level positions, provide services in emerging sectors, and contribute to the diversity and the workforce dynamics.
Youth also play a role in driving cultural and social change, which can have an economic impact. Their views and actions often lead to changes in consumer behavior, business practices, and policymaking. This has indeed occurred due to internal displacement, as youth have transferred many local cultures, especially those related to the restaurant sector, to other provinces. The same is true for refugees who migrated outside Syria. Youth possess a great ability to adapt to changing economic conditions and recover from economic shocks. They are often more flexible in their job choices and can move across sectors, aiding economic adaptation.
Demographically, the proportion of youth in North and East Syria today is considered average compared to other countries. Having a large number of youths can be a "demographic dividend" that gives a significant boost to economic development. A demographic dividend occurs when the working-age population is larger than the non-working population, leading to increased productive economic activity.
Youth often have extensive social networks, both online and offline, which can be leveraged for economic activities such as marketing, business development, and international collaboration. Youth can help local economies integrate into the global market, facilitating trade and cultural exchange. Today, with 5.5 million refugees, this could be an important lever for future external trade exchanges if a real political transition is achieved. Youth activity and participation in political processes can lead to changes in policies that support economic development, such as educational reforms, investment in technology, and support for entrepreneurship.
The Role of Local Government (Autonomous Administration)
The Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria can play a significant role in economically empowering youth by developing and implementing policies to support their economic integration, such as creating job opportunities, providing vocational training and ensuring access to education. It can also encourage entrepreneurship among youth by offering grants for starting businesses, business development services, mentorship programs and access to microfinancing.
Additionally, the Autonomous Administration can directly or indirectly create job opportunities and implement skill development programs that align with local market needs, encourage youth participation in decision-making, invest in infrastructure supportive of economic activities, and collaborate with educational institutions, NGOs, and international organizations to enhance youth capabilities and contribute to the region's development and stability. Through dialog meetings and sessions, a range of measures and recommendations have been presented to enhance youth participation in the labor market, significantly contributing to youth economic empowerment, which is crucial for the region's overall development and stability.
The Autonomous Administration can develop and implement policies specifically designed to support the economic integration of youth. This includes creating job opportunities, providing vocational training, and ensuring access to education.
Encouraging entrepreneurship among youth can be a key strategy. The Autonomous Administration can facilitate this by providing grants for starting businesses, business development services, mentorship programs, and access to microfinancing.
The Autonomous Administration can create direct job opportunities through public sector employment or indirectly by providing a safe and regulated work environment and encouraging the private sector to employ youth. This could include tax exemptions or financial support for companies that hire youth.
Implementing skill development programs that match the needs of the local economy is essential. This could include vocational training, apprenticeship programs, and partnerships with local companies and educational institutions.
Encouraging youth participation in decision-making processes ensures their voices are heard and their needs are addressed. The Autonomous Administration can establish youth councils or forums to involve youth in governance.
Investing in infrastructure that supports economic activities, such as transportation, internet connectivity, and energy, can create a favorable environment for youth employment and entrepreneurship.
Collaborating with local educational institutions to align their curricula with market-required skills can improve youth employability.
In the modern economy, digital skills are increasingly important. Local governments can enhance digital literacy and ensure youth access to technology, especially in underserved areas.
The Autonomous Administration can collaborate with NGOs and international bodies to benefit from additional resources, expertise, and networks to support youth economic integration.
Implementing a system to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of youth economic integration initiatives is essential to ensure that policies and programs achieve the desired results.
The Role of Local Civil Society Organizations
Local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can support youth economically by offering vocational training and skills development programs, and by fostering entrepreneurship. They can engage with companies to provide training and employment opportunities, and advocate for policies that support the integration of youth into the labor market. These organizations can also play a role in activating youth's role in society, enabling them to express their concerns and aspirations. Research and data collection on youth employment and their participation in the labor market are important parts of the role of these organizations, in addition to facilitating partnerships between different stakeholders to develop a comprehensive approach for economic integration of youth, among other roles. Through conducted meetings, it was clear that youth believe that these organizations can significantly contribute to their economic empowerment and integration into the labor market, which is essential for sustainable development and stability. A set of relevant recommendations were presented:
NGOs can offer vocational training and skills development programs tailored to meet the needs of youth. These programs can focus on high-employment potential areas or emerging sectors in the economy.
NGOs can support youth entrepreneurship through mentorship programs, providing access to microfinancing, and offering business development services. They can also organize workshops and seminars on entrepreneurship and business skills.
NGOs can collaborate with companies and local industries to provide internship and employment opportunities for youth, helping bridge the gap between education and employment. They should also ease employment standards for young generations to integrate them into the labor market and provide them with practical experience.
NGOs can play a crucial role in advocating for policies that support the economic integration of youth into the labor market. This may include lobbying for educational reforms, incentives for companies employing youth, and other supportive legislative measures.
NGOs can engage with communities to raise awareness of the importance of economically integrating youth into the labor market and empower youth by providing platforms for them to express their concerns and aspirations.
NGOs can conduct research and collect data on youth employment and economic participation. This data can be crucial for informing policy decisions and adapting programs to meet the specific needs of the region.
NGOs can facilitate partnerships between various stakeholders, including the private sector, government bodies and international organizations, to develop a comprehensive approach to the economic integration of youth.
Encouraging and supporting the organization of social enterprises can be a unique role played by NGOs. This includes helping youth start businesses that not only generate income but also address social, cultural, or environmental issues.
In conflict-affected areas like Northeast Syria, NGOs can provide mental health and psychosocial support for youth, which is crucial for their overall well-being and their ability to engage in economic activities.
NGOs can help build the capacities of youth-led organizations, enhancing their ability to contribute to the economic development of their local communities.
The Role of Donors and International Organizations
International organizations and donors contribute to the integration of youth into the labor market by providing funding, building the capacities of local institutions, and supporting policies. Their role includes offering expertise and technical assistance, supporting entrepreneurship and innovation among youth, promoting research and partnerships, and other roles that enable international organizations and donors to significantly contribute to the economic empowerment of youth and their integration in areas like Northeast Syria, thereby enhancing stability, growth, and development.
A key role of international organizations and donors is to provide funding for economic integration programs for youth. This can include educational grants, vocational training, and entrepreneurial initiatives.
Assisting in building the capacities of local institutions, NGOs, and government bodies to implement and manage youth economic integration programs. This includes training, resource provision, and sharing best practices.
International organizations play a significant role in advocating for policies that support the economic integration of youth and assisting in their implementation. They can use their expertise to guide policy formulation at local and national levels.
Providing technical assistance and expertise in areas like program design, monitoring and evaluation, and sector-specific training is a crucial role, ensuring the effectiveness and sustainability of programs.
These organizations can support and fund programs that promote entrepreneurship and innovation among youth and provide platforms for young entrepreneurs to showcase their ideas and access funding.
Conducting and supporting research on youth employment and economic participation can provide valuable insights and data for informing policy and program design.
In conflict-affected areas like Northeast Syria, these organizations can provide emergency support and crisis response, addressing immediate needs such as creating job opportunities, supporting livelihoods, and providing psychosocial support for youth.
Promoting gender equality and inclusivity, ensuring that economic integration programs include everyone and meet the needs of all youth, including women and marginalized groups. This includes advocating for inclusive and gender-sensitive programs.
International organizations and donors can help ensure the sustainability of youth economic integration efforts by supporting long-term development plans and strategies.
In conclusion, the importance of youth in driving economic and social development, especially in complex and sensitive areas like Northeast Syria, is evident. Youth, with their energy, innovations, and unique perspectives, are the cornerstone in creating a brighter and more sustainable future. By supporting them with quality education, vocational training, and entrepreneurial opportunities, we can open new horizons for them and their communities.
The role played by local governments, NGOs, and international organizations and donors is not limited to providing financial and technical support but also extends to building youth capacities and empowering them to be change leaders in their communities. These entities must work together to achieve integration in policies and programs that ensure the maximum benefit for youth and the community as a whole.
The challenges are multiple and complex, but with our commitment and belief in the capabilities of youth, we can overcome these challenges and build a future of prosperity, peace, and progress.
We extend our deepest thanks to all those who contributed to preparing this study, from those targeted for interviews to those who provided valuable information and recommendations that helped develop this paper.
- Population of Syria and their distribution.
[Map of the Distribution of Syrians Inside and Outside Syria](https://jusoor.co/ar/details/خريطة-توزع-السوريين-داخل-وخارج-سورية)
- World Population Pyramid from 1950 – 2100
[Syria 2023] (https://www.populationpyramid.net/ar/سوريا/2023/)
- Population in Syria.
[Fanack: Population of Syria] (https://fanack.com/ar/syria/population-of-syria/)
- United Nations Data site.
[UN Data: Syria](https://data.un.org/en/iso/sy.html)
- Central Bureau of Statistics
[Central Bureau of Statistics Syria](http://cbssyr.sy)
- Data Commons [Data Commons: Population Ranking for Syria]
- Youth (United Nations) [United Nations: Youth]