Naturalizing Syrians in Turkey
It is difficult to judge before measures to execute it begin, and before the first Syrian attains Turkish citizenship
When Turkey’s prime minister promised to grant citizenship to Syrian refugees, each person analyzed this from his or her own angle. His Turkish rivals opposed the move, considering it an attempt to enhance his situation in the upcoming elections by including these Syrians to vote for him. They launched a social media campaign against granting citizenship to foreigners.
Some Syrians are afraid because they consider it a hint by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he has given up on their cause and intends to reconcile with the Syrian regime. Others view the move as more propaganda that he will not implement.
It is difficult to judge before measures to execute it begin, and before the first Syrian attains Turkish citizenship. In the current circumstances, the idea is very interesting and worthy of discussion. What we understand from preliminary information is that the plan is limited to those who are financially well-off, estimated at 300,000, though I think this number is exaggerated.
If the plan is real and not just propaganda, it is a smart and practical move that will benefit Turkey’s economy, even though it may cause political problems. It will also alleviate the suffering of some refugees. I do not think the proposed number will alter Turkey’s electoral balance, as no more than 100,000 Turkish-Syrians will be eligible to vote.
Absorbing hundreds of thousands of refugees may ease their plight, but it will not end the tragedy that the Syrian people are going throughAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Erdogan will not politically benefit from this right away, because the plan will take time to implement due to long bureaucratic procedures in official Turkish institutions. Last year, he promised to grant Syrian refugees work permits, but only 5,000 out of 2 million were given one. Of course granting citizenship is more complicated and sensitive, and years may pass before it is executed in such great numbers.
The figure of 300,000 does not compare to the 1 million refugees that Germany has received and promised residency to, which will eventually lead to nationality. Nevertheless, if Erdogan fulfils his promise it will be an important achievement regardless of the criticisms.
The United States is an example of a country that has benefited greatly from migrants. In some cases, it eased restraints and granted work permits, which later allowed for citizenship. It did so with categories of people that it believed would benefit the economy, such as Indians, whose numbers have greatly increased since the 1990s. Today, they constitute an important category in different sectors, and are distinguished for their hard work and keenness to learn and professionally excel.
In the past decade, Britain pressured Iraq to take back refugees, but asked it to exclude doctors because there is a severe lack of them and a huge need for them in Britain.
Absorbing hundreds of thousands of refugees may ease their plight, but it will not end the tragedy that the Syrian people are going through. No matter how many people the Turks and the Europeans grant citizenship to and provide jobs for, the number of refugees will just keep rising. Half of Syria’s population has been displaced inside or outside the country.
Their situation is not like that of the Palestinians, whose suffering is more complicated and difficult as their homeland was seized and they may not return to it. What is happening in Syria is a power struggle, and it will end one day. No matter what the end looks like or how long it takes, its people will be able to return, just like the Iraqis, Afghans, Somalis, Yemenis and other peoples who have been plagued by chaos and war.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 13, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed