We should see refugees as permanent residents

We should see refugees as permanent residents

If I mention “the difference between Arabic and Turkish,” the first thing that comes to mind is the fact that Arabic is read from right to left. 

Could it be that we are reading the issue of the university to be established in the southeastern province of Gaziantep the other way around, too? The university will be for Syrian refugees, set up with the cooperation of Saudi Arabia and planned to have Arabic as its language of instruction. 

The issue of why Arabic will be used has become a point of controversy among some observers. But this actually sums up our view of Syrian refugees generally…

After the outbreak of the civil war over five years ago, they came to our country first in their thousands and then in their tens of thousands. According to official figures, there are now around 2.4 million Syrians in Turkey. Including the university project, our policies for these people have so far all been based on the idea that they will one day leave the country.

But is this really so? Are they actually going to leave? 

Look at what the head of Hacettepe University’s Migration and Politics Research Center, Associate Professor Murat Erdoğan, recently told BBC Turkish. “Our state does not want to notice the issue of Syrians inside Turkey. There is still hope that if Bashar al-Assad leaves, we will send them back. But this is a dream. Even if we say there has been an urgent resolution reached in Syria today, more than half of these people will not return. They would not want to return.” (Source: BBC Turkish / Selin Girit) 

It is not only Murat Erdoğan who has a commonsense stance on the issue of refugees. A report by one of the leading think-tanks in the U.S., the Brookings Institute, has this title: “Not Likely to Go Home: Syrian Refugees and the Challenges to Turkey - and the International Community.”  

Eyes that know how to look can see clearly: They will not go back.

So what do we need to do? 

There is only one thing we can do to prevent that this huge foreign population in our society from forming a social risk in the future: With an urgent, comprehensive and realistic plan, Syrians should be swiftly integrated into our society.  

Obviously the government is aware of this. It has taken a step and announced that it will grant working permits to Syrians without exception. Even though this is a belated move, it is still a significant step, because at present only 7,351 of 2.4 million Syrians in Turkey have a work permit. 

For those who do not have a work permit, the options are scarce. Either they have to allow their labor to be exploited by working illegally, unregistered, or they have to take a voyage that has an uncertain ending with the hope of a different life in a place where they will be fed adequately. 

But with the recent work permit adjustment, everything could be changed. Syrians can start to feel that they belong here, feel safe and at home here. This is just as it should be.

We now understand that temporary measures will do nothing other than deepen the issue. In the interests of the future, we have to see them as permanent components of this land. In particular, we have to take care for and pay attention to the situation of the children. 

Since we cannot expect people who do not speak the same language to share the same life, we should encourage them to learn and speak Turkish, not Arabic. Without losing any more time…