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Turkey Plans to Offer Syrian Refugees Citizenship amid Opposition Fears to Resettle Them | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters in Istanbul, Turkey, May 6. REUTERS/MURAD SEZER

Beirut,Riyadh-Syria’s opposition fears that the Turkish decision to grant Syrians the citizenship would be used by some countries to produce a demographic change in their country.

Head of the Syrian opposition delegation in Geneva, Asaad al-Zoghbi said: “We fear that this Turkish decision would be used by some parties such as Russia, the U.S., Israel and Iran to implement their policy of emptying Syria from its citizens, in a way or another.”

He said: “We know that Erdogan’s comments emanate from his sympathy towards Syrians, however, we fear the presence of a Russian desire to empty Syria from its residents and therefore produce a demographic change that would affect the future political work and would shift the results of the war in the benefit of the regime.”

Zoghbi hailed the Saudi position in dealing with Syrian refugees, because although it had received a large number of Syrian visitors, Riyadh had never offered them residencies or citizenships. “It is important to keep Syrians on their nationalities because the regime wants the opposite.”

Meanwhile, a Syrian opposition member informed about the file said that what the Turkish government has been working in the past four months on special legal procedures to offer citizenship to Syrians already working in the Turkish market and for Syrian businessmen who had already invested in Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had announced on Saturday night that his government is working on a plan to allow Syrian refugees the chance to receive the Turkish nationality.

Turkish media outlets quoted Erdogan as saying during a dinner to break the Ramadan fast in Kilis province, on the Syrian border: “I want to announce some good news. We are going to help our Syrian friends in offering them the chance, if they want it, to acquire the Turkish nationality.”

Erdogan added that the Interior Ministry would shortly announce how the citizenship procedure would work, without offering any further details, a matter which is expected to drive a wave of disputes.

The Turkish president did not specify whether his government would allow all Syrian refugees currently registered in Turkey the chance to apply for a citizenship. Also, Erdogan did not set the required criteria for doing so, or how long the process would take.

Erdogan told a group of Syrian refugees in Kilis: “We regard you as our brothers and sisters. You are not far from your homeland, but only from your homes and your land because Turkey is also your homeland.”

The Turkish President’s announcement was seen by many as a step that would lead to the resettlement of the Syrian refugees. However, Syrians close to the Turkish government said the Turkish decision only targets Syrian businessmen and workers in Turkey.

Member of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Ramadan, who is well-informed about the matter, said: “According to information I received, there are no Turkish steps to resettle refugees, but rather steps to offer legal facilitation and special procedures for Syrian businessmen and those investing in Turkey, or for Syrian workers wishing to work in Turkey.”

Ramadan asserted: “There is a Turkish desire to … ease the difficulties of their involvement in the Turkish market.”

Ramadan told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that according to the Turkish law, any person possessing a work permit for five years, gets the Turkish citizenship, adding that the idea of resettling Syrian refugees in Turkey is still early now.

He said the Turkish government’s measures were taken because several businessmen were unable to invest in the Turkish market without receiving a residency or citizenship, and also because the Syrian regime is very strict in offering passports and legal papers, a matter which pushed several Syrians to look for another citizenship in another country.

Syrian businessmen and workers constitute to investment in Turkey, and their number is estimated by the thousands. Shops and bakeries owned by Syrians in Istanbul’s shopping malls are well spread.

However, Syrian opposition analyst Burhan Ghalioun said that the Turkish announcement aims to resettle the Turkish political balance as it has become clear now that Turkey’s priority is not to bring down (Syrian President Bashar) Assad, but to internally fight the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the reason why it had offered Russia and even Iran several concessions.

Ghalioun said that Turkey is now working on containing the crisis by reaching an agreement with the moderate opposition at the expense of Al-Nusra Front.

He said Ankara wants to repay Syrians who had already referred to Turkey for its failure to meet its promises to bring down the regime and resend refugees back home, and therefore the decision of granting them the citizenship comes in this regard. Also, Ghalioun said Ankara aims to please Europe by showing that Turkey is baring the burden of the Syrian refugees file, and therefore is encouraging them to remain in its territories.

Ghalioun did not hide his fears that following the latest U.S.-Russian agreement, there is an international and regional policy to keep the status-quo in Syria, which means the prolongation of battles without any changes on the ground.

Erdogan’s comments led to a wave of disputes on social media. Also, the hashtag #I don’t want Syrians in my country was used by several to slam Erdogan’s plan.