Syria : the Refugees' Nationality Crisis


Syrian refugees have already plumbed the depths of despair. Their plight does not seem to be unraveled in a foreseeable future. NGO and neighboring countries have been hustling to alleviate the escalating gravity of their economic situation but now they are facing a social crisis. Having almost reached an impasse, the problem of nationality is amongst the most urgent matters.


The population of Syrians who fled their country have reached roughly 4 million refugee and becoming the world's largest refugee population. They are resettled over Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. As these countries' limits have been exhausted, the programme of resettlement has been expanded to include western countries: the US has resettled 564 Syrian refugees while Germany had pledged to resettle 35.000 before 2016. But their contribution to the programme remains rather financial since resettlement could pave the way for ISIS to infiltrate within the refugees.


Lately, the issue of their naturalization have been raised and it has inflamed debates. Reactions vary from embracing and welcoming to utter rejection.

Turkey's case: the issue takes on a political flavor


Since Turkey adopts a Europeans-only policy when dealing with the issue of refugees, Ankara managed to grant the first wave of Syrian refugees the status of “ temporary refugees”. In 2011, the temporary protection regime allowed Syrian citizens to enter the Turkish territory with no visa or other formal regulations. Along with that, in 2013, a law was passed to ameliorate the the Turkish policy with th issue of refugees and to offer them protection.


A leap into history would show that the status of “temporary refugees” always turns into permanent (Turks themselves were initially temporary in Germany). Those facilitating procedures can foretell Turkey's intention to naturalize refugees since Syrians already enjoy an informal integration within the Turkish society added to that is their amounting ability to speak the Turkish language. Ankara has already naturalized thousands of refugees which was met with much criticism.


Three possibilities are granted by the Turkish nationality law to become a Turkish citizen: by birth, 5 years of permanent residency or marriage. The latter option has been the easiest way out for Syrian refugees. In the span of three years, 3577 refugees have been naturalized, 2543 among whom obtained citizenship via marriage. By 2016, a great amount of refugees will be applying for citizenship via the 5-year residency clause, and by the 2019, one million Syrian applicants will demand the application of the Turkish Law to become a Turkish citizen. Added to that is the number of children born within the camp to Turkish parents ( children are to be registered as Turkish citizens).


The Turkish government seems to cast a blind eye on these issues, or maybe embraces the situation. Opposing parties claim that Syrian refugees couldn't be any more grateful for the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Their children bear his name or his wife's name, Emine. According to them , once naturalized, the Syrian refugees would become potential voters for the AKP ruling party.

Lebanon's case: “The issue of naturalization is out of the question”


 “Out of the question”, that's how the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumby responded to the question of granting citizenships to Syrian refugees. Lebanon has gone as far as dismissing the suggestion of long-term refugee camp lest it would ease the possibility of naturalization.

In Berlin conference, Derek Plumby described the influx of refugees as “a growing burden” that only worsens the Lebanese already shaky situation. The population has increased by 25% then, and probably 38% now. Refugees have been creating great pressure within the country: they become resented by nationals for “stripping” their jobs. The Lebanese government reacted by prohibiting Syrians from work ( Refugees have resorted to informal work ).

In October 2014, the Lebanese government made an announcement stating that no more refugees are allowed to enter their country except for urgent cases.

Jordan's Case : “Jordan for Jordanians”

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 On the onset of Syrian refugees settlement, Jordan repeatedly rejected the recognition of refugee's camps (politically translated as avoiding the intimidation of the Syrian regime). Official recognition was in 2012. In 2014, the UN stated that 619.000 refugee have registered in the country.

Although it is not a precedent for Jordan to host refugees ( Palestinians, Iraqis), voices have been raised against the formal (and even de facto) integration of Syrian refugees.

The “Jordan for Jordanians” spirit has propagated within the Jordanian society. Adherents of this view express great anxiety over the question of the “Jordanian identity”: the emergence of another group within the growing plural cultural society, by this time, would menace the national identity.

Economically, they claim that Jordan's resources are too scarce to cover the requirements of a considerable increase in population. Their anxiety is also attributed to the fear that the newly-settled group would compete over their country's resources with the formerly-settled ones.

 Nidhal Chemkhi