Syrians Working Abroad Face Mass Job Cuts

Predicted lay-offs will damage Syrian economy and send unemployment figures soaring, say observers.

Syrians Working Abroad Face Mass Job Cuts

Predicted lay-offs will damage Syrian economy and send unemployment figures soaring, say observers.

Thursday, 9 April, 2009
Syrian expatriates are expected to return home in droves from the Gulf states as they lose their jobs as a result of the global financial crisis, which has hit the once booming region hard.

Around 20,000 of the more than half a million Syrians working in Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, UAE, came back home last year as jobs were cut because of the economic downturn.

Hundreds of thousands more are expected to follow, as a result of future job losses in the real estate, financial services, retail and tourism sectors.

This mass return of ex-pats could cause already high unemployment in Syria to soar, while the country’s economy will be lose out from the loss of the money the migrants send home, say experts.

Many Syrians, like 29-year-old Ahmed Samour, who lost his job as a sales representative at a Dubai-based cable television company earlier this year, are already planning their return.

“Two years ago, I began encouraging my brother to come and join me in Dubai because of all of the job opportunities,” said Samour. “He finally arrived and I was busy trying to find him a job when both my roommate and I were laid off in February.”

Samour, who had been with the TV company for the last six years, said there were signs his job was in danger as early as autumn last year.

“The company started reducing [sales] commissions and increased our working hours from eight to 12 per day,” he said. “I knew something bad might happen, but I kept hoping the economy would recover.”

He said he now intended to move back home to his parents’ house and start looking for work.

Syrians working in the UAE have little protection against redundancy as labour and immigration laws make it easy for companies to cut staff, and also require expatriates who lose their jobs to find new employment within a month. or leave the country.

Rula Al-Hasan, 36, who has lived with her husband in Dubai for the last eight years, recently lost her job as sales manager with an advertising company.

“The administrators summoned [my colleagues and I] for a meeting after we heard rumours that there were going to be layoffs,” she said. “I had a bad feeling this meant we would be the first victims, and I was right.”

She now fears her husband, who works for a cosmetics firm, might loss his job as well, forcing them to return to Syria.

Hasan is looking for a new job to cover their household expenses.

“My husband’s salary alone won’t cover everything, especially the overpriced rent,” she said.

While salaries are typically double or more for Syrian expatriates working in the Gulf States, the living costs are also far higher. Typical annual rental costs are around 15,000 US dollars for an unfurnished apartment, and between 30,000 and 70,000 dollars for a three-bedroom villa, depending on quality, location and facilities.

Meanwhile, as more and more expatriates return home, the Syrian economy is losing out on the remittances they used to send to their families.

In addition to the one billion dollars that is injected into Syria through bank payments and other formal transfers, it is estimated that the country receives the same amount again through Syrians returning home and handing out gifts and money to relatives.

Many people say they do not know how they will manage once their relatives stop sending cash.

“My husband worked for Jawahir Transportation in Saudi Arabia. In January, the owner told drivers that they should start looking for new jobs or be prepared to leave within the month,” said 35-year-old Intisar Niqrish, a mother of two living in the Damascus countryside.

“In November, my son was born with intestinal paralysis. He had to stay in a private hospital for a month after his birth. Had it not been for the money that my husband was able to send to me, I could not have paid for my son’s 2,000 dollar operation.”

“There are also many other family needs that we will not be able to meet without the money my husband sends. He has provided for his sisters and their university expenses. I don’t know what we will do now.”

Niqrish said her husband will return home to Syria next month and begin looking for work.

Officials fear that if migrants start returning in even larger numbers, they could push the unemployment rate past 20 per cent, according to economic researcher Dr Qadri Jamil, a member of the private Damascus-based Association for Economic Enlightenment.

“The return of so many skilled yet unemployed workers will increase the burden on Syria’s already-struggling economy, and it is going to be an issue that our government has to tackle,” he said.

While International Labour Organisation, ILO, figures state that unemployment currently stands at 10 per cent, Jamil said the actual figure is at least double.

As workers return to compete for jobs with the long-term unemployed, this could cause friction, say commentators.

“It is not fair for these returning workers to expect to find jobs here immediately,” said Suhair Ahmed Suleiman, an economic researcher who writes for Al-Iqtisadiya, a privately owned economic weekly in Damascus.

“We had high unemployment rates even before the international crisis and there are people who have been searching for work over many months – even several years.”

The manager of a private bank in Damascus said he had received hundreds of resumes from Syrian expatriates who had worked in the financial sector abroad and were now returning home.

“We used to only receive applications from recent college graduates and people who just moved to the city, but now I get resumes daily from Syrians about to leave Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” he said.

“I think it may be good for Syria in the long run to have so many skilled workers returning home, but right now, there simply aren’t enough jobs for people with their skills and qualifications.”

An engineer who recently lost his job with a leading contracting firm in Dubai said he thought his chances of finding work when he returns to Aleppo were slim.

“I am settling financial matters here and then must head back to Syria,” said the man, who asked that his name and the name of his firm be withheld in the hope that he might eventually get his job back.

“I wish I had more time to look for a job here. I know that finding a job back in Syria will be almost impossible in spite of all of the reassuring statements from officials.”

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