Turkish Germans are finally finding their voice

Interesting overview and history (long read):

IScores of young Turkish men in sober suits move towards the train that will take them to Germany, while their wives and mothers cry on the platform. A few days earlier, these hopefuls had been bare-chested as their teeth and bodies were checked by German doctors to ensure they were strong enough for the physical work awaiting them. Those that pass the test feel immense pride: “I am Yılmaz Atalay from Çorum!” announces one, gazing wide-eyed into the camera in footage originally shot by Turkish state television.

Atalay was among the first Gastarbeiter, or guest workers, to leave a poor part of Turkey for West Germany’s booming post-war economy and a better life. The deal signed in 1961 by Ankara and Bonn sparked an enormous migration between two countries that shared little in terms of culture, religion or prosperity. It changed not only the workers’ lives, but also the nature of their new country. By the end of the first year, 5,623 Turkish workers lived in Germany. When the scheme officially ended, in 1973, there were 900,000. Now the Turkish-German community, comprising the original migrants and their descendants (about half of whom are German citizens) numbers nearly three million, constituting the biggest minority group in the country.

Most of those original migrants spent their working lives in low-paid, backbreaking jobs on assembly lines and building sites, as well as in mines. Their descendants include global successes, such as Game of Thrones actress Sibel Kekilli and World Cup-winning footballer Mesut Özil as well as—most recently—the Covid-19 vaccine creators, the married couple Uğur Şahin (whose parents were doctors) and Özlem Türeci of BioNTech.

But while such figures conjure up an immigrant rags-to-riches story, the truth for most is less romantic. As the 60th anniversary of the Turkish Gastarbeiter programme approaches, the younger generation is struggling to find its proper place. In 2021, Turkish Germans are still among the least integrated, least educated in the country. At the same time, the effects of German xenophobia remain pervasive. Many young Turkish Germans are angry that even after three generations, they don’t appear to fully belong.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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