Only Syrians whose citizenship would be beneficial for Turkey’s interests will be offered identity cards, Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala has said, while announcing that efforts were ongoing to grant citizenship to Meskhetian Turks as well.
Ala said the idea flourished amid considerations that the conflict in neighboring Syria would not cease in the short-term and as foreign countries continued offering citizenship to well-educated Syrians while neglecting the large masses who were less qualified.
“A country made a 600-person list. Among these 600 people, 75 percent are university graduates. Of those [Syrian migrants] who come to us, only 1.5 percent are [university graduates] and some 5 percent have an occupation,” Ala said, declining to provide the names of these countries in order to avoid a “diplomatic problem.”
The minister said they brought up this issue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who also agreed the situation was unacceptable.
“We are obviously doing this [citizenship scheme] as part of a policy to prevent countries other than Turkey from having these people who are able to provide education, healthcare or social services to other Syrians who live in camps, cities, slums or suburbs of Turkey,” Ala said.
Ala also dismissed claims the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was resorting to populism with the citizenship offer, saying, “Mathematics rests aside in cases where conscience and morality are at stake.”
Meanwhile, Republican People’s Party (CHP) group deputy chairperson Özgür Özel criticized the AKP in a question to Ala, saying the scheme was merely an attempt to garner votes from 3 million additional voters.
“Meskhetian Turks have been begging for [citizenship] for 70 years,” Özel said, referring to a Turkish-speaking minority in eastern Ukraine who come from the Meskheti region of Georgia. They were expelled from their homeland in 1944 following orders by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in order to clear the shores of the Black Sea from Turks.
Some 10,000 from the minority migrated to Ukraine in 1990 and settled in shanty towns used by seasonal workers but they were eventually threatened by ongoing clashes between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east.
“We will also take in Meskhetians, we are working on that too, don’t you worry,” Ala said, adding the Meskhetians had been previously informed of an upcoming legal arrangement. “It is my very special area of interest,” the interior minister stated.
Some 300 Meskhetian Turkish families were resettled in the northeastern province of Erzincan after the first families started arriving in December 2015, while a group of 72 families was settled in apartments built by the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ) in the historic Ahlat district of eastern Bitlis province.