North seeks to extend ‘citizenship’
FEARS that the north’s ruling National Unity Party (UBP) could relax tough immigration restrictions, thereby allowing tens of thousands more mainland Turks to become ‘TRNC citizens’, were rife yesterday after ‘Interior Minister’ Ilkay Kamil called for a temporary halt to processing applications.
These fears were fuelled by Kamil’s refusal to say why the review had been deemed necessary, although sheer overload to the system, and the administration’s wish to reduce from 15 the number of years an immigrant must live in the north before being eligible for ‘citizenship’, are thought to be the likely causes.
Applications for ‘TRNC citizenship’ had been frozen in the lead up to ‘presidential’ and local elections in April and June. However, despite ending the restrictions on processing applications during elections, the authorities are yet to resume dealing with them.
Despite Kamil’s caginess over the pause, many assume his reticence to resume processing applications stems from a massive backlog in applications from Turkish mainlanders that built up under the previous Republican Turkish Party (CTP) administration. That administration boasted that during its five years in office, it only granted ‘citizenship’ to 48 people who had fulfilled the 15-year immigration criteria. However, since the right-wing National Unity Party (UBP) took over in April 2009, it has, according to its own sources, granted 900 ‘citizenships’ to mainland Turks who married ‘citizens’ of the breakaway state, plus another 180 to those deemed to have fulfilled the naturalisation criteria.
An individual must live and be registered in the north for 15 years before becoming a ‘citizen’. Until 2008, when the CTP tightened the law on immigration, it had only taken five years registered residency to qualify for ‘citizenship’. Today, an immigrant can only apply for a permanent residency permit after five years.
However, many in the north fear the number of immigrants receiving ‘citizenship’ is set to increase again after information was leaked from the ‘immigration office’ that 450 Turkish mainlanders had applied for a character reference from the police in just two days. Hospital workers are also reportedly refusing to process health checks for mainlanders seeking residency, work or ‘citizenship’ permits.
Turkish Cypriots, who constitute only 40 per cent of the north’s population, often express resentment towards the growing number of predominantly poor immigrants from southeastern Turkey. Kamil, however, flatly denies that a rush for ‘citizenship’ is taking place, or that anyone will be granted ‘citizenship’ outside the established rules.
Turkish Cypriot demographics expert Mete Hatay told the Cyprus Mail yesterday he believed that if a surge in applications had occurred, it was likely due to a backlog that built up over the past five months while election restrictions were in place. According to his estimates, around 500 Turkish nationals can be expected to have married Turkish Cypriot ‘citizens’ during that period and would now be applying for ‘citizenship’ themselves. He added that around 5,000 Turkish mainlanders, who have been working continuously, and who have been registered continuously for the last five years, could now be expected to apply for permanent resident status.
Hatay added, that because it was only in 2005 that the authorities started getting serious about registering workers, it was natural that there would be a surge in applications from those who had consistently been fulfilling the criteria.
“Although we have had as many as 35,000 workers applying for temporary work permits, it does not mean all of them will eventually apply for citizenship. Most of them come and work for a few months and then leave,” he said, adding that it was the most skilled sections of the labour force that tended to be the most likely to settle on the island.
However, construction contractor Huseyin Caliskan told the Mail he had six workers, all of whom aimed to obtain ‘citizenship’ “as soon as possible”.
“They have all been here five years and have all applied for residency,” he said, adding that ‘citizenship’ of the breakaway state was seen by poor Turkish mainlanders as “gold dust”, because it entitled them to retirement benefits not available in Turkey. Although refusing to give his name, one mainlander living in near-slum conditions in the walled city of Nicosia told the Mail he had chosen to settle his family in Cyprus because he would receive a pension when he retired.
“That way my children will not have to support me and my wife when we retire, which means they will have a chance not to be poor like us.”
(Source: Cyprus Mail)
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