Risks and opportunities over Turkish IDs for Syrian refugees

Risks and opportunities over Turkish IDs for Syrian refugees

The Interior Ministry is working on the framework of a draft law to provide Turkish citizenship to Syrian refugees, according to Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş, speaking after a cabinet meeting on July 11. 

But according to a ranking official in Ankara, work on the issue has been going on for nearly a year in a number of government agencies. “It was a political decision to announce it and announce it now,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

That almost answers the first question that comes to mind: Why did President Tayyip Erdoğan, who warned the EU that he could let buses and planes full of Syrian refugees head into Europe if Turkey’s demands are not met, say recently that Ankara was considering granting Turkish citizenship to Syrian refugees?

His suggestion irked many citizens. There are nearly 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, only a few hundred thousand of whom live in refugee camps along the border with Syria. Opposition parties suspect that jihadist militants fighting in Syria civil war against the Bashar al-Assad forces could gain citizenship, while also such large numbers of new citizens could change the electorate profile in certain constituencies in favor of Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti).

Erdoğan said on July 9 that only “qualified” Syrian refugees would be accepted, suggesting those who can integrate into the Turkish economy and Turkish society. Kurtulmuş yesterday stressed that no migrants with links to terror would be able to get Turkish IDs, (though that actually leaves the answer open-ended, as in today’s world some militants could be seen as terrorists by the government but praised as freedom fighters by others). 

A government official told daily Habertürk that they estimated that 300,000 Syrian migrants could be given Turkish citizenship, and Erdoğan has said they could carry dual citizenship, as some Turks in Germany.
That leads to three other questions: 

1) Are there any qualified Syrian migrants left to really contribute to the Turkish economy and society, as most of them have already gone on to Western democracies in order to enjoy citizenship and opportunities?

2) If there are any, would they want to become Turkish citizens? The Turkish passport not only carries heavy visa problems, but Syrians may also be less welcome in certain parts of Anatolia as citizens than they have been as migrants or temporary guests.

3) Will such a step encourage a greater flow of refugees from Syria to Turkey, with the primary aim not of getting Turkish citizenship but of trying to use Turkey as a stepping stone to reach the EU, as the deal between Brussels and Ankara over control of the inflow has not been finalized yet. Debate over the deal still lingers because the EU wants Turkey to narrow its anti-terror law, while Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım repeatedly emphasizes that Turkey has been fighting against the acts of terror of two notorious groups at the same time: The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). That struggle is complicated by the long and porous borders between Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

There might well be opportunities in the citizenship move for Turkey, but there are also serious risks. Perhaps that is why the government wants another revision to be made by the Interior Ministry, which would have to deal with the security problems that such a move could bring.