Syrian Palestinians in Turkey: New PA passport regulations could pose risk to legal status

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The Palestinian embassy in Turkey has altered the requirements for Syrian Palestinians (Palestinians who settled in Syria as refugees after the 1948 Nakba) who now live in Turkey to obtain Palestinian Authority passports or renew old passports – making the process both more difficult and much more costly.

Until recently, the process required booking an appointment via sending an email with the following attachments: a copy of their passport, a copy of their [Syrian] residence permit, their passport, a copy of their Turkish residence permit and six passport photos of themselves with a blue backdrop. Additionally, they had to pay a fee of 50 euros for issuing the passport.

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According to the Action Group For Palestinians of Syria (AGPS), the altered regulations require Syrian Palestinian refugees in Turkey who wish to apply for a first passport or renew their old passport, to present the following: an original copy of their birth certificate, a recent family record statement, their UNRWA agency card, a copy of their mother and fathers' passports and a copy of their husband or wife's passport. Not only this, but these documents should all be certified by the Syrian foreign ministry and the Palestinian embassy in Damascus.

"The new procedures will complicate matters for Palestinians when it comes to obtaining PA passports, continues Abu Eid, and could affect their Turkish residency"

AGPS stated that the Palestinian interior ministry in Ramallah informed the Palestinian consulate in Istanbul of the new requirements several weeks ago, and demanded that Palestinians previously resident in Syria procured all the listed documentation from Syria in advance of making their application. No reason for the change in the procedure was given.

Head of Media in AGPS, Fayez Abu Eid, says he wrote to the Palestinian consulate in Istanbul asking them the reasons behind the change, but has not received a response.

He explained to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition, that the process for Syrian Palestinians in Turkey to apply for a Palestinian passport had been much less complicated before: "Now the documents all need verification by the Syrian foreign ministry and the Palestinian embassy in Damascus."

Palestinian children participate in a solidarity event in Gaza for people affected by earthquakes in Turkey and Syria [Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency via Getty]

"This will have an adverse effect on the Palestinian community for several reasons, not least the cost, if you bear in mind that certifying documents in Syria will come with a sizeable fee, as well as having the additional documents issued as the cost of these documents could range between $5 and $10. It will also cost the family at least $60 dollars to send the documents [from Syria]."

Abu Eid adds that some don't have immediate family in Damascus, and these documents can only be obtained by a father, mother, brother or sister. In addition to this, in cases where refugees have been forced to book appointments at the consulate [in Turkey – in cases where they have no immediate family in Syria], there are horror stories of blackmail by middlemen who demand between $300 and $800, even though certification itself only costs $25, he says. Aside from this are lengthy waiting times for documents.

The new procedures will complicate matters for Palestinians when it comes to obtaining PA passports, continues Abu Eid, and could affect their Turkish residency permits, because Turkey won’t renew residency permits for refugees unless their passports are valid – and these procedures can be delayed.

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"We are trying to talk to Palestinian organisations in Syria to put pressure on the Palestinian embassy in Ankara to reverse this decision which we think is unfair and expensive for Palestinians," he said. The new decision has also sparked anger among Palestinians resident in Turkey due to the legal complications it could cause, he adds.

Ahmad (51), a Palestinian from Yarmouk Camp in Syria, who currently resides in Turkey, said: "The new decision places barriers in front of the Syrian Palestinians and Palestinians who live in Turkey. This will complicate any procedures undertaken at the Palestinian embassy in Ankara or the Palestinian consulate in Istanbul."

He adds: "Today, any procedure in the Syrian consulate in Istanbul requires the intervention of agents, especially booking appointments."

"As a Palestinian, I don't see why any procedures I undertake need to be connected to the Syrian foreign ministry, or be reviewed by the Syrian consulate"

Ahmad adds: "As a Palestinian, I don't see why any procedures I undertake need to be connected to the Syrian foreign ministry, or be reviewed by the Syrian consulate. I am Palestinian, so logically I should be able to obtain my documentation through the Palestinian embassy or consulate without a third party […]. I think this decision simply aims to make things harder. We are also afraid because of the increasing corruption in the Syrian consulate in Istanbul. Just under two months ago there was a case where falsified documents led to problems for dozens of individuals, and the same thing could happen to anyone."

Palestinian lawyer Ali Khalil commented that "from a legal perspective, the decision could affect residency rights. An application will require two to three months for approval and the issuing of the document. Any document issued from Syria will take two to three months to arrive.

"There is also the financial cost for a Turkish tourist residency permit, which is added to the costs for the certification processes with the Syrian consulate and foreign ministry. So making the application and obtaining the necessary papers certified by the Syrian consulate will require between $300-$500. If the documents don't arrive in time, the Turkish authorities won’t renew residency permits, and we will be in breach of the law, which could lead to deportation […], and those in breach won't be able to go to hospital or register their children in school."

Khalil strongly urges that the former mechanism remain in place and that Palestinian passports should be obtainable from the Palestinian Authority embassy and consulates in Turkey.  

For context, Turkey hosts over 3.6 million Syrian refugees and is the world's largest refugee-hosting country. Among those displaced to Turkey by the Syrian conflict are Palestinian refugees who trace their presence in Syria to the 1948 Nakba. Syrian Palestinians have always been treated differently to their Syrian counterparts; whereas Turkish authorities have given Syrian refugees a "temporary protection" status using a specific regulation (which has become increasingly precarious over time), Palestinians (including Syrian Palestinians) have had to apply for visas to enter and stay in the country.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition with additional reporting. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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