Syrian refugees pass through the Turkish Cilvegozu gate border . AP photo
ISTANBUL — The most qualified among three million Syrian and Iraqi refugees who are currently in Turkey can receive Turkish citizenship and that the interior ministry is in the midst of a vetting process, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on state television on Friday.
“Our interior ministry is carrying out work, and under this work, some of them will be granted our nationality after all the necessary checks have been carried out,” the AFP news agency quoted Erdogan as saying.”
Erdogan made similar comments last July which some opposition parties said was a ploy to increase the leader’s voting base and to permanently influence the demographic makeup in Turkey’s southeastern provinces, which are Kurdish-majority.
“Instead of letting them work illegally here and there, let’s give them the chance to work as citizens, like the children of this nation,” Erdogan said.
When the Turkish president first made his statement about granting Syrian and Iraqi refugees citizenship, Erdogan Toprak, a lawmaker from the opposition Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) told Rudaw, “There will be over 1 million new voters in the 2019 elections if the government goes through with the proposal, which will in turn change the outcome of the elections,”
The majority of the Syrian refugees in Turkey are of Arab origin, along with large numbers of Kurdish and Turkmen asylum seekers.
Erdogan added on Friday that his government is ready to implement the naturalization measures at any time, but he did not indicate exactly how or when that would happen, nor how many refugees would gain Turkish nationality.
“What is strategically important for the government is the bordering areas connecting Kurdish lands in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, which Ankara wants to influence by placing the refugees’ families there,” said Kurdish author Fehim Ashiq last March.
In September, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi praised Turkey for “generously hosting 3 million refugees, including 2.7 million Syrians” as well as the “hospitality of the Turkish people in welcoming them into their communities.”
Ankara has said by getting citizenship, the refugees will have brighter prospects in the labor market and reduce the overall migration to Europe.
As part of an agreement with the European Union, called the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, Ankara received nearly 750 million euros in 2016, a figure that could reach 6 billion by 2019.