Four myths about German-Turkish migration

Four myths about German-Turkish migration

The migration of Turks from Germany back to Turkey has been getting a lot of attention in the Turkish media. However, on close inspection many of the most popular explanations about it turn out to be myths.

Myth #1: There is an increasing emigration of Turks from Germany to Turkey

This myth arises from the misuse of statistical data. Indeed, the year 2006 marks a turning point in the history of German-Turkish migration. For the first time since the 1980s, the number of Turkish emigrants (33,229) outnumbered the number of Turkish immigrants to Germany (31,449). In 2011, 32,756 Turks left, while 31,021 entered Germany. From 2006 to 2011, annually more Turks left Germany than vice versa. However, this does not mean that we have a heightened return movement.

Relevant statistical data from the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees show that the migration from Germany to Turkey has remained constant since 1991. In 1991, 36,763 Turks left Germany. In 1994, emigration from Germany to Turkey reached its peak at 47,174. Between 2000 and 2010, the yearly number was around 35,000 and in 2011 it fell to its lowest level (32,756) since 1991.

Myth #2: Turks living in Germany are returning to Turkey permanently.

The grounds for such false explanations focuses too heavily on migration from Germany and ignores the nature of the continuous migration from Turkey to Germany. In 2010, 30,171 Turks entered Germany, while only 7,456 Turkish citizens received visas for family unions and 2,351 Turkish citizens received student visas for studying. In the same year, only 1,340 Turkish citizens applied for asylum in Germany. Therefore, while 11,000 Turks received a visa or applied for asylum, a total of around 30,000 entered Germany.

This difference is due to the fact that two thirds of Turks were entering Germany not for the first time; otherwise they would have to get a visa as well. Two thirds of the 30,000 Turks who migrated to Germany were not on their first entry there. This shows that there is a circular movement between Germany and Turkey.

Recently, we have therefore not been facing a large “return migration” to Turkey, but rather a “circular migration” between Germany and Turkey. A large portion of Turks – be they retirees, students, or highly qualified persons – return after work and stay in Germany only for a couple of years.

Myth #3: Rising Islamophobia is enhancing the emigration of Turks

Islamophobia has indeed been on the increase since Sept. 11, 2001. However, the current migration patterns are not mainly due to Islamophobia or Turkophobia. The increase of Islamophobia does not correlate with a significant increase in the emigration of Turks. After 2011, the number of Turks leaving Germany in the direction of Turkey has even been decreasing.

Myth #4: Discrimination is motivating people to emigrate from Germany

The idea that discrimination motivates people cannot be proved by empirical evidence. There are indeed several surveys indicating that Turks in Germany face discrimination, especially in the labor and housing markets, as well as in the education system. However, there is no evidence suggesting that people who face discrimination are more strongly inclined to emigrate from Germany than people who face less discrimination.

Those myths are the result of intellectual fallacies: Firstly, many scholars still understand migration as a one-way movement. However, this is no longer representative for contemporary migration, as it overlooks return movements and transnational circular migration. Secondly, they focus heavily on push-factors in emigration countries and ignore vice versa pull-factors in immigration countries. Thirdly, some scholars still imagine migrants to be victims of structures and politics, simply reacting to them or letting themselves be induced to emigrate by them.

Dr. Yaşar Aydın is a social researcher at Hamburg University.