News changes quickly in Turkey. Nowadays, the media naturally covers mostly news about the recent coup attempt, the investigation process, the nation’s firm stance and the political parties’ solidarity against any undemocratic move. But now let’s go back a couple of weeks ago, before this violent attempt happened. Granting citizenship to Syrian refugees has been among the reports that dominated the news.
The subject was not only discussed in the news but also in social media and talk shows. Everyday politicians, academicians and journalists weighed in about the issue. Those who are against it usually raise the following points:
* Why did Syrians run from their country instead of fighting for it?
* The national income of Turkey, which is already low, will get even lower with this new influx of people.
* There is the matter of unemployment in Turkey. The Syrians who are given citizenship will make the situation worse.
* The ethnic and cultural differences between Turks and Syrians can easily get out of hand and turn into full-blown conflicts.
Even though they do not state it explicitly, the opposition parties have other concerns. They are worried that the new citizens from Syria will vote for President Erdogan and the AK Party (Justice and Development Party) in the next elections.
In addition to the 2,720,000 Syrian refugees that live in Turkey according to official reports, there are also 170,000 Iraqi refugees. Thus, the total number of refugees is close to 3mn, and the number of Syrian children born in Turkey is 152,000.
The ordeal of the Syrians stems from the fact that they are legally considered as “persons seeking protection”. If they were refugees, under international law they would have been entitled to various rights like education, work, settlement and access to basic services.
Only 20% of Syrian refugees are 18-59 year old males. In other words: 80% comprise women, children and the elderly. This data clearly refutes any claims that Syrians are not fighting for their country.
Many Syrian refugees have already adapted to daily life in Turkey as much as possible. Most of them are working as blue-collar workers and those with necessary means usually start their own business.
However, since they are not citizens, their income is not registered and more importantly, they do not have any social security. If they become citizens they will start paying taxes and they will be protected by social security.
The second option is preventing them from engaging in daily life and forcing them to live in the camps Turkey has allocated to them. Those in favour of this second option think that it will prevent any negative impact on employment and the economy.
However, this view is not very realistic, because Turkey has already spent $5bn for refugees since 2011.
If a competent plan is followed, not only will this expenditure drop once their economic activities are recorded and taxed, but Syrians will also be contributing to Turkey’s national income.
Furthermore, incorporating white-collar refugees in work life, such as doctors, teachers and engineers, will be highly beneficial for the Turkish economy and its social life.
Even though there are Syrian people in Turkey who were involved in crimes, this is clearly not exclusive to Syrians.
Besides, Turkish citizenship laws include articles that prevent such people from obtaining citizenship. Needless to say, every society has their criminals, but it is definitely not right nor legal to condemn or sanction an entire society due to these individuals.
The Syrians who died while making a bomb in Hatay added a whole new dimension to the debate; one of national security. At this point, it is necessary to remember that those Syrians involved in those incidents were pro-regime Syrians and not those that fled ongoing airstrikes.
The Syrian refugees living in Turkey comprise those individuals who escaped the Assad regime and the ongoing civil war. Although slim, there is a possibility that there are supporters of the regime or members of anti-Turkey terrorist groups among those refugees.
However, the risk they pose is no greater than of any other Turkish citizen. Given the fact that almost all members of the PKK terrorist organisation (responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people in Turkey) are, in fact, Turkish citizens, it is unrealistic to associate national security concerns with the ethnicity of our citizens.
The claim that Syrians will cause a Turkish-Arab conflict within the country is also not very realistic. Since the inception of the Republic of Turkey, millions of Arabian Turkish citizens have been living in southern Anatolia without having any quarrels with Turkish people.
Despite all these technical objections, Turkey has always acted conscientiously when it comes to the Syrians. The fact that Turkey accepted Yazidis who fled from IS and Kurds who escaped from the cruelty of Saddam Hussain’s tyranny is the biggest evidence of this fact.
Then again, it is not new for Turkey to welcome those who are in need: Similar examples are abundant in her history.
Today, many Crimean Tatars, Bosnians, Georgians, Circassians, Dagestanis, Laz people, Chechens, Azerbaijanis, Polish and Jewish people in Anatolia had migrated there in different periods of history. Even Armenia, with whom Turkey has rather sour relations, has some 12,000 citizens living in Turkey.
Turkish history is laden with exemplary attitudes towards refugees who sought shelter in her lands. Turkey had never demonstrated a self-righteous, scornful or discriminatory attitude towards refugees.
The Turkish government can grant citizenship to refugees on the condition of passing a strict background check.
In addition to security concerns, certain social conditions in terms of age, gender and marital status can be established to prioritise those that match the requirements.
Furthermore, granting citizenship gradually to the entirety of the refugee population, rather than accepting all three million at once, could be an option to be explored.
No matter what method is used, Turkey’s main concern should not be material gain; the first priority of the Turkish government should be helping all the refugees out of their ordeal, whether they are ultimately made citizens or not. This beautiful attitude is a requirement of Islamic morality and Turkish tradition.
Adnan Oktar's piece in Gulf Times: