Nur Turkmani, Economic Development Solutions
Kanj Hamade, Faculty of Agriculture, Lebanese University
Refugee Research and Policy Program, February 2020
This study aims to critically examine the dynamic of Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s agriculture sector, while studying the capacity of the sector to absorb refugees. It focuses on the informal strategies and processes Syrian refugees use to access employment within the agriculture sector and the labor dynamics and structural challenges that govern Syrian refugees’ work. The research method is ethnographic, relying on various empirical tools such as focus group discussions, key informant interviews, field observations, and memos in Akkar, Baalbeck-Hermel, and the Beqaa region. The study finds that the agriculture sector is capable of absorbing refugees because of multiple reasons: the sector’s informality, the long history and connection of Syrian workers to Lebanon’s agriculture, the dependence of the sector on cheap labor and the lack of competition with Lebanese agriculture workers, the “legality” of refugee work in agriculture, and the investment of international organizations in the sector. At the core of refugees’ strategies to access agricultural work is their reliance on social capital and communal networks, the shaweesh (community manager), and in rare cases, non-governmental organizations and international organizations. These strategies are key for women, as many did not have previous working experience. The emergence of female-headed households among the refugee community has pushed many women to reluctantly take on jobs in the agriculture sector. While findings show that women do not necessarily enjoy agriculture work, there is an emphasis on the relative feeling of safety on the field, as women are able to work with one another during daytime. Refugee agricultural workers in Lebanon, however, describe feeling trapped in jobs with no security or contract, minimal wages, long working hours, lack of protection, exposure to multiple health hazards, bad working conditions, and cyclical poverty. Despite these shared challenges, the study finds that there are no organized collective networks. In fact, refugees actively distance themselves from any form of mobilization in cases of exploitation, whether from the Syrian shaweesh or Lebanese landowners and employers. Yet, there are cases of solidarity, whereby refugees, particularly women, look after and protect one another. This study is important as it depicts how the informality of the agriculture sector, and the ease with which refugees can access it, has led to the “agriculturization” of Syrian refugees.