News, interviews and opinions on Cyprus peace process
Saturday, 20 February 2016
A curb on settlers (The Cyprus Weekly, 15 November 2015)
By Esra Aygin
The Turkish Cypriot ‘parliament’ has passed a new law that will effectively suspend the handing out of further ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ citizenship except for births and marriages, replacing it with permanent residence permits instead.
Under the new law, some 10,000 people, who are already entitled to receive ‘TRNC’ citizenship, will be receiving permanent residence permits or ‘white ID cards’.
The law will go into effect after being signed by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and published in the official gazette.
The ‘permanent residence law’ will ultimately apply to a maximum of 40,000 people, mostly from Turkey, who already hold a valid working permit on the date the law is activated.
Among these 40,000 people, only those who renew their permits for six consecutive years, will be entitled to receive white ID cards, according to ‘interior minister’ Asim Akansoy.
Any foreign workers, who acquire work permits after the ‘permanent residence law’ comes into effect will not be able to renew their permits beyond a certain period and will ultimately have to leave the island.
The new law is expected to serve as a serious deterrent for foreign workers, especially from Turkey, seeking a life in the northern part of Cyprus in hopes of eventually becoming ‘TRNC’/ citizens.
The issue of citizenship is very sensitive since it is directly related with who will or will not be entitled to become citizens of a possible future federal Cyprus.
The number of ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ citizens on the island currently stands at 220,000 – including the Turkish settlers.
This reportedly is also the figure being taken as a basis in the negotiations process aimed at finding a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem.
Akansoy stated that the negotiations process can in no way be disregarded in efforts undertaken by the ‘ministry’, but denied allegations that the new law has been specifically tailored for this purpose.
“Efforts for a ‘permanent residence law’ have been going on for many years now,” said Akansoy.
“We are a small community and, as Turkish Cypriots, we need to protect our demographic structure. On the other hand, there are people, who have been working and living here for a long time and who are entitled to citizenship, according to the current citizenship law.
“This law will disburden these people of the bureaucratic strain and uncertain social status,while at the same time preventing a further increase in the number of TRNC citizens.”
Under the current ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ citizenship law, anyone, who has been living in the northern part of the island legally for at least five years, is entitled to receive citizenship.
However, the five-year requirement is in practice often waived by the ‘interior ministry’ or ‘council of ministers’ on grounds that the applicant “is of benefit to the state”.
Turkish Cypriot ‘governments’ have widely been criticised for arbitrarily distributing ‘TRNC’ citizenships with political considerations, especially during election periods.
In fact, according to a PRIO Cyprus report titled, ‘Is the Turkish Cypriot population shrinking’ by Mete Hatay, statistics indicate a clear increase in the number of the persons who acquired ‘TRNC’ citizenship during election years.
Akansoy stated that the ‘interior ministry’ is also working on amending the country’s citizenship law with the aim of introducing the requirement of possession of white ID cards for at least nine years before being able to apply for citizenship. Even then, the granting of citizenship will not be guaranteed, he added.
Until then, the ‘interior ministry’ has issued a circular stating that citizenships may only be granted to those who have had working permits on the island for 12 consecutive years, those who marry Turkish Cypriots or those who make a significant investment on the island, Akansoy said.
The arbitrary distribution of citizenships had become a widely-debated issue in 2004 when former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat’s Republican Turkish Party CTP, after coming to power, had cancelled a decision by the previous ‘cabinet’ to grant citizenships to 1,600 individuals in one sitting.