Demirtaş Calls For Referendum On Citizenship for Refugees

hhhThe proposal to grant Turkish citizenship to select Syrian refugees will fuel racism against the nearly three million Syrians seeking safety in Turkey, said Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan outlined a proposal to grant citizenship to Syrian refugees with qualifications and skills that could benefit Turkey.

“There are highly qualified individuals among Syrian refugees in Turkey,” Erdogan said to reporters at a mosque in Istanbul at the start of the Eid holiday.

“Western nations open their doors to such skilled individuals and they have no choice but to go when we do not open the gates ourselves. We would like to benefit from their knowledge,” he said, adding that the interior ministry was taking steps on the issue.

Reaction to Erdogan’s plan was swift and passionate. The hashtag #UlkemdeSuriyeliIstemiyorum (I don’t want Syrians in my country) started trending on Twitter.

A member of the Syrian opposition in Turkey, Havas Agit, told Rudaw that granting Turkish citizenship to Syria’s educated and elite class will be damaging to the country. Their expertise is needed for Syria’s future, he said.

Demirtaş accused Erdogan of playing political games. “They are using Syrians as a tool of domestic politics,” he said.

“Without convincing the people and by only fueling the racist, chauvinistic wave against our Syrian brothers by fueling nationalism, you cannot solve this issue,” he added, calling on the government to hold a referendum on the issue.

The leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), also called for a referendum if the government is truly serious about the proposal and accused Erdogan of trying to buy votes with the proposal.

“What is the reason you are giving Syrians citizenship? If you insist on it, you always talk about the ‘national will,’ so let’s ask the people,” said Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu in a party meeting on Tuesday.

Kiliçdaroğlu pointed out that Turkey is suffering with a high unemployment rate and 17 million citizens living in poverty and asked why the country should take in refugees while Europe turns them back from its shores.

If Ankara presses forward with the plan, Kiliçdaroğlu believes it will be a betrayal of the nation. “Ghettos will be formed in big cities and this will cause tension. If the government is doing this in order to design a new regime, it is a betrayal to Turkey. If it is doing this in order to gain votes to introduce the presidential system, it is a betrayal.”

He called on the government to instead work for an end to the conflict, “so the Syrians can go back after the war.”

Of the more than 2.7 million refugees living in Turkey, an estimated 90 percent are living outside of refugee camps. Many are living in poverty. The Education Ministry on Tuesday estimated that fewer than one-third of Syrian children in Turkey are in school.

On Saturday, a fight between Syrians and Turks near Konya over the kicking of a stray dog resulted in two dead and three wounded.