Turkey to Offer Citizenship to Syrian Refugees

TURKEY-ERDOGAN/ABBASTurkey is preparing to offer citizenship to Syrian refugees, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Saturday in a move that could cause deep domestic divisions and complicate a deal with Brussels to halt the flow of migrants to Europe.

Speaking in Kilis, a town in southern Turkey that has seen its population doubled by those fleeing the civil war in neighbouring Syria, the Turkish leader said that the country’s interior ministry was taking steps to offer citizenship to those who wanted it.

“Tonight, I want to give some good news to my brothers and sisters here,” he said at a meal to break the Ramadan fast attended by Syrian refugees. “Among our brothers and sisters, I believe there are those who would like to obtain citizenship of the Turkish Republic. Our interior ministry is taking steps in that regard.” He added: “Turkey is your home, too.”

Mr Erdoğan did not specify whether all of the 2.7m refugees registered as living in Turkey would be able to apply for citizenship, nor did he set out the eligibility criteria or how long the process would take. While Turkey announced in January that it would grant Syrians the right to apply for work permits if their employer will sponsor them, human rights groups say that uptake has been minimal. A senior Turkish official said that the president’s remarks represented a “statement of intent” and that the government was still undertaking preliminary work.

Mr Erdoğan’s comments raise questions about the fragile deal struck between Turkey and EU to halt the flow of people using smugglers to reach Europe. In return for Ankara’s cooperation, Brussels promised a series of incentives, including granting visa-free travel for Turkish passport holders to Europe’s borderless Schengen Zone. The deal has come under increasing strain in recent weeks, with Turkey resisting an EU demand to overhaul its terror laws in order to qualify for visa liberalisation.

EU leaders, many of them facing pressure from the extreme right amid growing public hostility to immigration, are likely to be reluctant to extend the exemption to Syrians for fear that they would plan to settle in Europe or that Isis operatives would travel to the content to commit terror attacks.The deal has come under increasing strain in recent weeks, with Turkey resisting an EU demand to overhaul its terror laws in order to qualify for visa liberalisation.

EU leaders, many of them facing pressure from the extreme right amid growing public hostility to immigration, are likely to be reluctant to extend the exemption to Syrians for fear that they would plan to settle in Europe or that Isis operatives would travel to the content to commit terror attacks.

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