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Settling the situation of Palestinians from Syria in Turkey is a prelude to limiting immigration

February 2, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Mustafa, a young man in his thirties, is a Palestinian from Syria living in Turkey. He insists that he would not have thought of boarding one of the death boats to immigrate to Europe if he was legally living in Turkey. The three years he spent in Turkey without a residency permit or the right to work posed an economic and social burden on him and his family of five. This forced him to risk the lives of his children and take to the sea in search of legal residency that would guarantee him a dignified life. He said, in short: “With legal residency status and permission to work, Turkey is closer to me, in terms of atmosphere, as a host country than any other European country.”

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Mustafa’s story represents the stories of about 80,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria and their suffering. They are the ones who are left of the tens of thousands of refugees who ultimately settled in Europe after illegally entering Turkey from its northern border due to the fact that the Turkish embassies would not issue them entry permits. This imposed legal challenges on them which made Turkey only a pit stop.

The Turkish government did not recognise Palestinian refugees coming from Syria, in violation of all international conventions. Therefore, they have no rights, and their presence is considered illegal so they do not receive UNRWA or UNHCR services.

Vital efforts

In February 2014, Palestinian civilian institutions such as the Palestinian Return Centre, the Working Group for Palestinian Refugees in Syria, and the Turkish Association for Solidarity with Palestine (Vidar), were able to highlight the issue of Palestinian refugees in Syria within the Turkish government. This resulted in the issuance of a decision on 19 February 2014 allowing Palestinian refugees from Syria who have illegally entered Turkey to receive an entry stamp and a six month or one year residency permit.

The Turkish government stipulated that this must occur in coordination with the official Palestinian level, represented by the Palestinian embassy in Ankara, which approved the decision. However, it took the first batch of Palestinian refugees seven months to receive permits that were on the verge of expiry. In addition to this, this was very expensive as all the members of a family had to travel more than once to complete the process, while some were not allowed to follow-up on the process. Therefore, the second batch that requested residency did not receive it.

The Turkish government dealt with the residency issue through security offices. These offices are considered security departments associated with the Ministry of Interior. They operated until early August 2014 when a new batch of laws was issued which transferred the whole issue to a new administration created specifically for this matter, the General Directorate for Migration Management. This was a direct result of the progress made in the negotiations between Turkey and the EU to resolve the refugee issue in exchange for granting Turkish citizens the right to enter Europe without a visa.

The result of these new developments and their impact on the legal status of Palestinian refugees from Syria were not clear, and everyone was waiting for a more detailed explanation. However, generally, one can conclude that the Palestinian refugees from Syria with a Syrian passport did not benefit from the new laws, and remained without a residency permit.

What’s new?

In the beginning of 2016, Palestinian civilian organisations, including the Palestine Scholars’ Association in Diaspora, the Turkish Association for Solidarity with Palestine (Vidar) and Palestine Aid contacted Turkish officials once again and provided detailed descriptions and documented statistics of the conditions of Palestinian refugees from Syria in Turkey. The government responded and a meeting was arranged with Muhammed Murtaza Yetis, refugee affairs advisor to Turkey’s prime minister, which resulted in an agreement to have these organisations gather data on Palestinian refugees from Syria in Turkey and submit the information in order for residency permits to be issued to them via the Palestinian embassy in Turkey. The mechanisms and means of this were decided during the latest visit made by Palestinian Ambassador to Turkey, Dr Faed Mustafa, to the Turkish Association for Solidarity with Palestine (Vidar). The process will start in the next few days and the information will be submitted to the Turkish government as soon as possible within the first quarter of 2016.

The bottom line is that resolving the problem of the Palestinian refugees from Syria in Turkey must begin with arranging their legal status in a manner that matches Turkey’s civilised manner that contributes to the development of human rights. Turkey has been a progressive model for the hosting of millions of refugees from across the world and spending billions of dollars on them as part of its role in protecting the helpless and providing refuge to the oppressed. This opens the door to the Palestinian refugees from Syria to enter the work force after the residency permits pave the way for them to receive work permits. This will positively impact their social and economic stability, which in turn may strongly contribute to the reduction of immigration and perhaps closing the door to immigration once and for all.

Work not only provides economic value, but also provides social security and safety, as unemployment generates marginalisation, and marginalisation leaves the door wide open to social problems that everyone can do without. This is especially true when we find out that there are thousands of job opportunities in the areas with a strong presence of Palestinian refugees from Syria. In addition to this, Palestinians are known to be qualified and experienced as well having a high literacy rate and educational level compared to other nations.

Finally, I cannot overlook or disregard the fact that this is an advanced measure on the Turkish government’s part towards the Palestinian refugees from Syria as whole, not just those who are in Turkey. Grating refugees residency permits may save the lives of many and aligns with Turkey’s supportive position of the Palestinian cause. This is also the most honest and sincerest expression of the Turkish people’s love for Palestine and its people. It must be a point of interest and attention for the official Palestinian authorities and should be high on their agenda.

Translated from Al-Resalah, 31 January 2016.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.