Revising integration in Germany after 50 years

Revising integration in Germany after 50 years

“We demanded manpower, but those were human beings who came,” said famous Swiss-born German author Max Frisch decades ago when he was trying to describe the problem of integrating Turks into German society.

This statement of his was the common point of agreement for many Turkish and German officials and academics who gathered in Berlin at a meeting organized by Presidency of Turks Abroad and related communities to both celebrate the 50th year of the Turkish-German labor recruitment agreement and to discuss the current state of integration for over 2.5 million Turks in the continent’s most hardworking society.

After the signing of the two-page, 12-article labor recruitment agreement on Oct. 31, 1961, 5,193 Turkish workers arrived in Germany in the first two months with hopes of returning to their homeland after saving some money. But that did not happen. The agreement, which had been set to expire after a year, was extended and allowed hundreds of thousands of new workers to come to Germany. Germany now hosts over 2.5 million Turks, 1 million of them having been born in Germany.

Neither Turkey nor Germany predicted that those workers would settle in Germany, marry, have children and become an undeniable part of Germany’s citizenry. Thus both countries were late in realizing the problems of Turkish integration into German society.

“We have long considered our citizens abroad as potential resources of foreign currency inflow, especially during economic crises,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ admitted in a meeting with journalists in Berlin. “We ignored their problems and left them alone there.”

For Germans, the situation was much more complicated. As none of the German governments in the 1960s and 1970s foresaw permanent Turkish integration, they failed to address the practical needs of Turks who were much more different than other immigrants in terms of religion, culture and language.

“Our workers came in Germany with their hearts, religions, language, culture and identity,” said Bozdağ, urging German officials to base their integration policies toward Turks on these values.

“What is the meaning of integration?” Maria Böhmer, Germany’s minister responsible for migration and integration, asked at yesterday’s symposium. “For us, integration is something other than assimilation.”

Böhmer’s reference is critically important in reflecting the change in Germany’s integration policies in what she called “the new welcoming culture.”