"If I Had Another Job, I Would Not Accept Data Annotation Tasks": How Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Train AI

Syrian refugees working as data annotators in Lebanon face unique psychological, administrative, and economic challenges. This report examines their mental well-being, compensation, and bureaucratic barriers, concluding with a plea for supporting marginalized communities working under precarious conditions.

By Roukaya Al Hammada

My name is Roukaya Al Hammada, and in this article, I delve into challenges facing data workers in Lebanon, particularly focusing on Syrian refugees. I discuss the economic barriers impeding their financial stability and the psychological strains they must deal with. This work is based on my personal experiences as a refugee in Lebanon and a series of conversations and interviews I have had with colleagues in my data annotation team. I explore the many issues we face as data workers, refugees, and humans.

The field of data annotation is relatively novel in the Arab world, and I focus on Humans in the Loop, the social enterprise offering data labeling and annotation services where I have worked since 2022. Humans in the Loop has the explicit goal of offering opportunities to refugee communities globally. They hire refugees as data workers but also facilitate training and courses to support career development and foster financial resilience.

Against the backdrop of stringent labor regulations enforced by the government in Lebanon, the opportunity to engage in digital work is extremely valuable. Unemployment is widespread among refugees, even those of us with higher education qualifications, and the data annotation training programs provided by Humans in the Loop represent crucial employment opportunities. Nevertheless, the workload and income I receive as a data annotator are characterized by their irregularity. 

As a co-researcher in the Data Worker’s Inquiry, I conducted a series of interviews with my data labeling team to delve deeper into the experiences of other data workers, exploring the psychological toll of the work, satisfaction with compensation, obstacles to achieving work-life balance, and avenues for support from recruitment agencies. 

A  major finding is a pervasive dissatisfaction with wages. The absence of stable monthly projects exacerbates financial uncertainty, as evidenced by testimonies from refugee workers reliant on sporadic assignments. Challenges encountered in accessing mainstream remote work platforms further compound these difficulties, as Lebanese regulations prevent refugees from having bank accounts, which serves as a barrier to entering the local labor market. These circumstances heavily burden data workers‘ mental health. Lastly, this report articulates a plea from refugees in the data sector for support and recognition. Despite their limitless potential, refugees need investment and assistance to navigate the complexities of remote work.

Recommended citation:

Al Hammada, R. (2024). „If I Had Another Job, I Would Not Accept Data Annotation Tasks“: How Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Train AI [Coordination by M. Miceli, A. Dinika, K. Kauffman, C. Salim Wagner, & L. Sachenbacher]. Retrieved from https://data-workers.org/Roukaya

About the Author

Roukaya Al Hammada

Roukaya Al Hammada is a 29-year-old data worker from Syria. She works with Humans In The Loop as the lead of one of the data annotation teams and a member of its Beneficiary Advisory Board. Because of the difficult circumstances in her home country, she has been living in Lebanon as a refugee since 2014. Working with data annotation is a surprising turn in her career, as she has a medical background and training.

Skip to content