FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

Syrian refugees gain agricultural job skills, alongside their Turkish neighbors

On-the-job training in olive harvesting in Akcakale, Sanliurfa.

Twenty-six-year-old Sene has been living in a “container city” in southern Turkey since 2014, when she and her family arrived after fleeing Syria.

While studying at university in Syria, Sene worked part-time on her family’s farm. After graduation, she became a teacher. But as life in conflict-ridden Syria grew increasingly dangerous, she and her family decided to leave home and seek a safer, better life elsewhere.

“All doors in front of us were closed but Turkey’s,” Sene recalls. “We came, they welcomed us, and now we are here.” Living with her family in the Sanliurfa refugee camp, Sene has put her practical experience to work as an agricultural worker on nearby farms.

Now, she and hundreds of other refugees in Turkey have a chance to upgrade their skills and improve their chances on the local job market.

Good news for many
The agricultural skills training is delivered by FAO through its implementing partners under a project financed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Sanliurfa is just one of five provinces in southeastern Turkey covered by the $1.7 million project.

The initiative is good news for many – not only Syrian refugees.

Turkish residents of Sanliurfa and other refugee host communities are also participating in the training.

A shortage of skilled, agricultural labour in southeastern Turkey means trainees have a realistic shot at finding work after they finish their training.

The availability of skilled workers is good news for farms in the area, who struggle to find experienced help during harvest and other key moments in the annual cycle.

Back in Syria, Sene was a teacher. But she is still an eager learner when it comes to agriculture.

“We had worked in this field before, yet we learned new things,” she says. “Before, we did not know when to use fertilizers or cultivate seed. We used to do it randomly. We used fertilizers but without knowing what they contained. Now, we know what the ingredients are.”

“We had worked in this field before, yet we learned new things.
Before, we used fertilizers without knowing what they contained.
Now, we know what the ingredients are.”

Sene, age 26
Syrian refugee

Theoretical and practical training sessions were completed in October. Participants learned about production of pistachio, olive, apple, grape, pomegranate, cotton and greenhouse vegetables, citrus harvesting and packaging, food hygiene, food processing and packaging, irrigation, cattle care and herd management.

Equipped with the knowledge gained, some 900 individuals have now started on-the-job training with agricultural enterprises.

An engineer from Aleppo
Muhammed has a degree in civil engineering. Back in Aleppo, his family used to harvest olives and pistachios. Now he is training on-the-job at an olive farm in Nizip, Gaziantep. He says the FAO training taught him a lot about best practices in harvesting olives.

“First, you need to collect the ones on the ground and put them aside,” he says. “Because their acidity levels are high and they have to be collected separately. Then you start harvesting. Before, we used to put them all together.”

Being good neighbors
Fostering good relations between Syrian refugees and their host communities is another objective of the project. It creates a setting where Syrians and Turks receive agricultural training side by side. About 30 percent of trainees are local Turkish people.

First job after high school
Kefe, originally from Syria’s Jarabulus province and a high school graduate, is doing work-training at a dried fruit packaging factory in Gaziantep.

“I used to stay at home doing nothing,” she said. “I had no idea about working in a factory. Here, I made friends. I practice Turkish by speaking with my Turkish colleagues here.”

Kefe is confident about finding a job, though her Turkish language skills are still shaky.

“I’ve learned many new things in this factory,” she said. “I can work right away, I am not anxious about it. However, Turkish is my problem. Apart from that, I am ready to work.”

Four job fairs
Starting this week and continuing through mid-December, the project will organize job fairs in four pilot provinces (Sanliurfa, Gaziantep, Mersin and Isparta). Beneficiaries will have a chance to discuss employment opportunities with more than 150 company representatives operating in the food, agriculture and livestock sectors.

Employers attending the job fairs will be informed through seminars about the work permit requirements for people under Temporary Protection, work permit application procedures, and social security requirements for seasonal agricultural workers. Information sessions will be delivered by the Provincial Directorate of Migration Management and relevant departments of Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

“Unemployment is a big problem.” says Muhammed from Aleppo. “We work for a month and do nothing for the whole winter. My wish is to have a permanent job.”

By increasing workers’ employability through training and job fairs, the FAO-UNHCR project is expected to boost household incomes among both the refugees and their host communities, increasing the quality of products, and improving agricultural productivity with a more skilled labor force.

With a budget of US$ 1.7 million, the project is financed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with Turkey’s Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock as lead executing partner and FAO as implementing agency. The project has six implementing partners: Mediterranean Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Businessmen Association, Western Mediterranean Economy Development Foundation, Gaziantep Chamber of Industry, Gaziantep Provincial Directorate of Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, Sanliurfa Cattle Breeders’ Association and Şanlıurfa Provincial Directorate of Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock.

29 November 2017, Ankara, Turkey