Turkey plans to introduce work permits for Syrian refugees, minister says

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey plans to offer Syrian refugees work permits to discourage them from crossing illegally into the EU, Ankara’s minister for European Affairs said on Monday, amid EU pressure to reduce the flow of migrants.

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Volkan Bozkir was speaking after meeting European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who last week said the European Union was far from satisfied with Turkey’s efforts to prevent migrants from crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece.

“We are trying to reduce the pressure for illegal migration by giving Syrians in Turkey work permits,” Bozkir told reporters in Ankara.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the “draft” regulation has been adopted by the council of ministers and will be published in the coming days. Employers will be able have Syrians comprise up to 10 percent of their staff, although this condition may be waived by provincial governors in certain cases

Turkish authorities detained more than 150,000 illegal migrants in 2015, about 500 migrants daily, Bozkir also said.

Turkey is the world’s biggest host of refugees amid the greatest global movement of refugees ever recorded.

More than 2.2 million Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey from the civil war, now in its sixth year. Another 200,000 Iraqi refugees also shelter there, and migrants from Iran, Afghanistan and Africa all use Turkey as a transit point to Europe.

Turkey, which aspires to join the EU, struck a deal with the bloc in November to prevent migrants from traveling to Europe in return for 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in cash, a deal on visas and renewed talks on joining the 28-nation bloc.

Timmermans said education for children should be the priority in deploying the funds.

“The money has not been paid yet but I’ve asked Turkish ministers this morning to identify the projects we can finance immediately so Syrian children can go to school,” he told reporters after a joint press conference with Bozkir.

The Turkish government has been weighing plans to make it easier for Syrians to earn a living, but it has been hampered by a domestic unemployment rate of about 10 percent as economic growth slows.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians and other foreigners work illegally for low wages, but only 7,300 work permits have been issued, Kurtulmus said. Kurtulmus said under new legislation, refugees will be able to apply for a work permit specific to their place of registration six months after they register there.

Refugees under temporary protection can work within the refugee community in Turkey, for example as doctors or teachers in camps.

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Additional reporting by Dasha Afanasieva; Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Ralph Boulton