Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Naturalising Wealthy Syrians | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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When the Turkish Prime Minister promised to grant Syrian refugees citizenship, each person interpreted this in their own way. His Turkish opponents opposed the decision and considered it an attempt to strengthen his position in the next election and gain the Syrian vote. They launched a huge campaign on social media against granting foreigners Turkish citizenship.

This has scared some Syrians because they think this is an indication that the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has forsaken their cause and intends to reconcile with the regime in Damascus. There are also those who consider it more political propaganda that will not be implemented.

It is difficult to judge this decision before the ball starts rolling and the first Syrian is granted Turkish citizenship. The idea itself is very interesting and worthy of discussion under the current circumstances.

From the preliminary information available, we understand that the citizenship plan is limited to those who are well off financially, an estimated 300,000 Syrians. This number is questionable as I cannot imagine that there are that many wealthy Syrians amongst the 2,700,000 refugees in Turkey or the population of Syria.

If the plan is real and not just propaganda, it is a smart and practical move that will work in favour of Turkey’s economy, even though it may cause political problems. It is a good step toward easing the stress and suffering that some categories of refugees face. I do not think that such a number will change the Turkish electoral balance as the number of “Syrian Turkish” citizens who will be eligible to vote will not exceed 100,000. This is without subtracting the number of young people who are not legally entitled to vote.

Erdogan will not benefit politically from this move because it will not be achieved soon due to lengthy bureaucratic procedures. Despite President Erdogan promising to grant Syrian refugees work permits last year, only 5,000 out of two million Syrians obtained them.

Of course, granting citizenship is a more complicated and sensitive process. Perhaps years will pass before such a large number of people are granted citizenship.

The 300,000 Syrians that have been promised citizenship do not compare to the one million refugees that Germany has received and promised residency to (this will usually lead to them being granted nationality eventually). If Erdogan fulfils his promise, this will be an important achievement regardless of the criticisms. These criticisms include discrimination against poor refugees and that the plan is an attempt to gain votes.

The United States is an example of a country that has benefited from immigrants. In some instances it loosened its restrictions and granted work permits which later led to the granting of American citizenship to categories that it thought would benefit its economy, such as the Indians whose numbers have increased dramatically since the nineties. Today they are an important category in different sectors and are distinguished by their hard work and the importance that they attach to learning and professional excellence.

In the past decade, Britain put pressure on the Iraqi government to take back Iraqi refugees but asked for doctors to be excluded on the grounds that there was a large shortage of health workers and a great need for doctors.

Taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees may make their lives easier. However, it will not stop the horrific tragedy that the Syrian people are experiencing. No matter how many Syrians are granted Turkish and European citizenship and jobs, the number of refugees is larger than that can be accommodated globally. We are looking at a country where half of the nation has been forced out of their homes. Today there are more than ten million Syrians who are either displaced inside Syria or are refugees abroad.

The Syrians are not like the Palestinians whose suffering is more difficult and complex. They were expelled after their homes and lands were seized and they may not return to their country. The conflict in Syria is a dispute over rule and will end one day. No matter how it will end and what the results will be, the Syrian people will be able to return to their homeland just like the Iraqis, Afghans, Somalis, Yemenis and other nations that have been plagued by chaos and war. Those who want to return to Syria will return and those who do not want to or cannot return will live abroad.