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Turkey, on a renewed push to join the EU, has adopted a long-awaited law to regulate migration and asylum in a move hailed Friday by the European bloc.
The country, which bridges Europe and Asia, is hosting up to 400,000 refugees escaping conflict in neighbouring Syria and is under pressure to regulate their legal status at a time when it is bent on relaunching stalled EU entry talks.
Turkey is also a major transit point for illegal immigrants crossing into Europe via Greece, and the bill -- first introduced last May -- seeks to fine-tune its dysfunctional refugee system.
The new law, adopted by lawmakers late Thursday, will protect refugees from Syria and other non-European nations as "conditional refugees" instead of the previous description of "guests".
"They will be allowed to remain in Turkey until they are placed in a third country," read the law, which reserves full refugee status for Europeans only.
EU Commissioners Stefan Fule and Cecilia Malmstrom welcomed the law's adoption.
They said in a statement that the move indicated Turkey's "clear commitment to build an effective migration management system in line with EU and international standards."
The move was also hailed by rights groups, but some insisted the law as it stands falls short of solving the real problem.
"Turkey is still holding onto its geographical limitations in this law, putting only European refugees under full protection," said Volkan Gorendag, a migration specialist from Amnesty International Turkey branch.
"Nevertheless, it is a landmark decision ... the very first time Turkey is giving migration a legal framework," he told AFP.
The law also introduces permanent residency for foreigners who remain in the country for eight years on residency permits and the right of individuals to challenge deportation orders in Turkish courts.
The EU statement said the new law could lead to further talks on visa liberalisation between the 27-nation bloc and Turkey, which remains outside the visa-free regime applied to other candidate countries.
But in return, the EU expects Ankara to take back thousands of illegal migrants who have crossed its borders into Greece, the EU's eastern frontier. Turkey has been hesitant to take on this readmission policy.
Turkey's efforts to join the EU formally started in 2005 but have stalled in recent years, due to several stumbling blocks including Turkey's human rights record and its large Muslim population.