Turkey signed the 1951 Geneva Convention, which defines the status and rights of refugees. With this decree, Ankara retains a geographic limitation to the convention, meaning that it accepts only people who escape events occurring in Europe.  People fleeing other countries that do not fit this situation, i.e Syrians, cannot obtain refugee status.

Turkey must still abide by the principle of non-refoulement (that no one may be returned to a country in which they may face persecution), which is binding in all cases. The non-refoulement obligation is one of the few articles in the Refugee convention to which reservations cannot be made.

However, the convention includes an article for the principle of non-refoulement, meaning Turkey cannot send those people back if they face a threat in their country of citizenship

Immediately after the flux began, Ankara implemented a law. It was on foreigners who were either forced to leave, could not return to their country of citizenship or arrived at Turkish borders. Thus and so, Turkey guaranteed a safeguard to these people. Nonetheless, they are defined as geçici sığınmacı (temporary asylee) instead of refugee.

A registered geçiçi sığınmacı has the right to legal residence. They can access fundamental rights and entitlements like health, education, and interpretation services. Access to the labor market is made conditional on having a work permit.  

While Turkey has been critical of geographic limitation, Erdogan made an unexpected statement. Yesterday (July 3) he said, addressing Syrians: “Turkey is also your home. I believe that among you there are some who want to become citizens of Turkey. Our interior ministry is taking steps in this regard.”

He did not give further details about the preliminary works. So, anyone can suppose these steps. Absolutely, this is redolent of the current EU-Turkey deal.  Erdogan’s move may seem surprising. In February, he threatened the EU with opening Turkish borders, which would effectively release thousands of Syrians into the Schengen zone, by stating “We do not have the word ‘idiot’ written on our foreheads. We will be patient but we will do what we have to. Don’t think that the planes and the buses are there for nothing.”

At the current phase, even though Greece and Turkey are working on a readmission agreement, the deal faces the threat of being broken at any moment because Turkey is not giving an inch for the measure in compromising the criterias set up by the EU. On June 15, The European Commision announced that Turkey had failed to meet a number of the conditions. The most remarkable one was about the anti-terrorism laws.

If the mentioned preliminary works are completed and applied, Syrians will gain full rights to access the labor market, healthcare-education services, and Turkish passports.

What will Erdogan’s plan be? We will see soon.