Turkish immigrants in Germany

Osmi Anannya

Image © Zanthia

It’s been 51 years since the once booming West Germany signed a recruitment agreement with Turkey to provide guest workers for the nation’s workforce. Usually unskilled labourers, armed with a minimum wage payroll and accommodation for the duration of their temporary contractual stay, came to the Western side of the country. This practice continued up until the 1973 global oil crisis and by that time somewhere around 710,000 Turks had benefited from the programme, living amongst German people and other ethnic minorities in Germany. Although many chose to return to their homeland soon afterwards, several thousand instead chose to bring their families to Germany, triggering an increase in the Turkish immigrant population numbers. Today these numbers constitute about 5% of the country’s population.

Studies by the Berlin Institute for Population has revealed that, of all immigrant groups in Germany, the Turkish population are least likely to integrate and most likely to be poorly educated, underpaid, and unemployed. With time, schools have started to introduce additional lessons in Turkish to aid immigrant workers’ children to further integrate into German society and increase their employment prospects. When rapid modernisation of industry in Germany began, companies demanded better qualified workers and Turkish guest workers found themselves ill equipped to compete in this new labour market.

Turkish immigrants often find themselves subject to criticism and prejudice in their native country, with many looking at them as being far too unsophisticated, conservative and overtly religious. Many of the second and third generation Turks in Germany seem to have developed emotional and cultural ties with both Turkey and Germany and because the two nations are so far apart, not just geographically, a trend of conflicting mindsets and lifestyles is presented to these children, making it difficult for them to find a place in German society and shape their own identity. Segregation in the Turkish immigrant society of Germany, therefore, has continued.

Since Turkish immigrants were regarded to be simply temporary settlers, successive German governments did not put in place structures that would help the integration equation. The predominant problem here is the barriers that exist for young Turks in gaining the same level of education as their German counterparts. Turkish is often spoken at home and for many Turkish children it is the natural choice of language to converse and study in. To change this one-sided facet of language education for the children, it is necessary to institute multiculturalism among the Turkish migrant community of Germany.

Once the disadvantage which grips many young Turks in Germany has been overcome, steps should be taken to increase their awareness of German culture and way of life. Arguments in favour of the same sort of culture exposure for Germans should pay attention to the fact that this is more of a “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” situation.

Although a recent poll by Info GmbH has revealed that almost two-third of Turkish-Germans aged in between 15 and 29 consider the distribution of the Qur’an to be “good” or “very good”, and one-third of them would go so far as to donate money to the cause, such a radicalised, increasingly-distant and generalist perception of the entire Turkish minority in Germany should not be upheld and definitely not encouraged. The German government needs to comprehend the fact that because for so many generations much of the Turkish-German society’s problems have been ignored, there may not be any steadfast and thoroughly well-accepted change about immersion into German language and culture, right away, among first-generation migrants.

First-generation Turkish-Germans may not be open to such a sudden inclusion of their children in German society, after so many years of abandonment, out of fear that they will soon begin to forget about or feel distant from their roots. There is still no sight of German governments having taken necessary steps to ensure that it will not be so: presence of Turkish media in Germany varies, depending on the availability of native-language media and the concentration percentage of Turkish-German population in a specific state. To curb such fears and minimize causes for concern among parents of Turkish-German children, it is necessary for the government to introduce an increase in presence of Turkish media in the country. Apart from an ode to the largest migrant population in Germany, it would also aid young Germans in alleviating their knowledge and cultural perspectives about Turkey as a nation.

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