Turkey is preparing to grant citizenship to Syrian refugees to help them adapt to Turkish society and reinvigorate the economy with the help of the many educated Syrians among the close to 3 million refugees. Speaking at an iftar dinner in the southeastern province of Kilis on Saturday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan mentioned the issue, while addressing Syrian refugees there. He said that the Interior Ministry is working to grant citizenship for Syrians who want to become Turkish citizens, though he did not specify a timeline or give further details. "Turkey is your home too," Erdoğan said to the Syrians, adding that the emotional borders of Turkey surpass its official borders, as he thanked the people of Kilis for their hospitality and for embracing Syrians fleeing conflict. With a population of 129,000, the city of Kilis sits just miles from the Syrian border and is home to about 120,000 Syrian refugees. Sources in Ankara said the regulation does not involve all Syrians, but rather focuses on those who have received work permits and an education. According to the regulation in April, refugees and those with subsidiary protection status can start working dependently or independently from the moment they obtain a status.
The applications for work permits will be made six months later than the international protection application. Applicants or refugees with probationary status will not receive payments less than the national minimum wage.
Speaking to Daily Sabah, Parliament's Refugee Rights Committee head Atay Uslu said work is still underway for the regulation in addition to granting Syrians work and residence permits, adding that Turkey will not allow the economic potential of the Syrians in the country to fade away.
"There are lots of qualified Syrians in science and academic fields living in Turkey. I do not know how many will be granted citizenship but the truth is not all of them will enjoy this right. Secondly, it will be on a voluntary basis. Thirdly, it will happen after a certain process. Those who are to receive a Turquoise Card or residence permit will enjoy this right after some years of residence."
The Turquoise Card is a work permit document that grants foreigners the ability to gain employment in the country by officially allowing them to work indefinitely. Parliament is still carrying out the work to implement this policy.
Assoc. Prof. Yusuf Adıgüzel from the Department of Sociology at Istanbul University said the current No: 5901 Turkish citizenship law does not include Syrians in the country since they are only under temporary protection, and this citizenship-acquiring process needs a new regulation for them.
"There is a slight possibility for them to return to their country even if the war in Syria ends. Therefore, paving the way for Syrians to acquire citizenship under certain conditions by making necessary legal regulations and taking some steps to ease the Turkish people's accepting them in society would be a good decision."
Stressing that this policy might serve the systematic and social harmony of the Syrians, Adıgüzel said: "Yet, the critical point here is to tell Turkish people accurately that this issue is for the benefit of Turkey, rather than work carried out to make Syrians adapt. For this, actors such as NGOs, political parties and the media must be included in this process and societal harmony and citizenship policy must be developed. Otherwise, these steps based on good intentions might fall victim to racist and separatist discourses."
Professor Ayhan Kaya from the Department of International Relations at Istanbul Bilgi University said the development is a crucial element contributing to the Syrians' successful integration into society.
"So far in Turkey, mostly those migrants with a Turkish ethnic background and/or with a Muslim background have been privileged enough to have access to Turkish citizenship. Turkish citizenship laws as well as state authorities should be more open to the idea of granting citizenship to everyone upon the completion of certain societal, political, economic and legal criteria irrespective of the applicants' ethnicity and/or religion. The liberalization of citizenship laws is what Turkey is required to do in a globalizing world," he said.
At least 250,000 people have been killed and 10 million displaced since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, according to U.N. figures. Turkey has spent $9 billion to accommodate refugees since the war began.