Turkish community living abroad amounts to more than 5 million people, around 4 million of which live in Western European countries, 300.000 in Northern America, 200.000 in the Middle East and 150.000 in Australia. This number increases to 8 million when 3 million Turkish migrants who returned Turkey are taken into account.
Meeting the needs and bringing solutions to the problems of this community which constitutes one of the most important dimensions of our relations with Western European countries are regarded as one of our foreign policy priorities.
Turkish citizens living abroad are in the responsibility of Directorate General for Consular Affairs. In addition to traditional consular services, our Ministry is closely following the problems of our citizens with an effort to prevent them feeling isolated; encourage and support their participation in the society they live in.
The immigration of Turkish citizens started in the early years of 1960s to compensate for the labor force deficit of the rapidly growing West European countries. The common goal of first wave of Turkish "guest workers", mostly of rural origin, is to collect capital to start a small business in Turkey. Most of the “guest workers” left their families behind in Turkey.
In order to facilitate and regulate the movement of labor force, and to meet the needs of employers and workers, Turkey signed Labor Force Agreements with the destination countries beginning with Germany in 1961, followed by Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands in 1964, France in 1965 and Australia in 1967.
In the beginning of 1970s, the status of Turkish immigrants in Western European countries shifted from temporary to permanent stay. This transformation was felt solidly in the wake of 1974 oil crisis, in particular, which gave rise to the stagnation that forced the destination governments by halting labor force immigration to seek means of encouraging already admitted immigrants either to return home or to reunite with their families with a vision to integrate with local communities.
The immigration of Turkish workers into Western Europe continued until 1974. From 1974 onwards, Turkish labor force changed its destination towards North Africa, Middle East and Gulf countries. Following the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the labor force was directed towards Russian Federation and Central Asian Countries. This transformation brought about opening-up of the Turkish economy to the world and Turkish contractors undertaking infrastructure projects in the region.
Today, the major part of the Turkish community abroad is permanently residing in the host countries and has obtained the citizenship of these countries. Population of the Turkish community is increasing mainly from family reunification and the relatively high birth-rate.
The Turkish community has contributed significantly to the economic development of the host countries. Most of the community members also contribute to the host countries’ political, social, cultural and economic life not only as blue-collar labor force but also as professionals such as academicians, scientists, doctors, journalists, engineers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, artisans, politicians, athletes etc.
In economic view, many members of the Turkish community left their laborer identity and have established their private businesses. The number of companies established by Turkish businessmen in Western Europe has risen to approximately 140.000 (70.000 in Germany). These enterprises provide jobs for 640.000 employees (330.000 in Germany). Their total annual turnover exceeds 50 billion Euros (32,7 billion Euros in Germany). According to the latest statistics, the annual expenditure of the Turkish citizens living in Western Europe amounts to 22.7 billion Euros.
Integration and Active Participation Concept:
Immigrants are the elements that diversify and enrich the culture of the society that they live in. To sustain power and influence in the face of globalization and economic crisis could shape the governments’ policies and approach towards foreigners.
Integration is not a process based solely on political and economical requirements but also has psychological prerequisites. In this respect, the views of the immigrants are definitive for the success of integration measures; that feeling of exclusion can discourage immigrants in terms of integration.
Integration should be regarded as a two-lane process. It is believed that within this process, not only the immigrants but also the host country governments should have responsibilities. Host country governments should undertake policies that encourage the participation of the immigrants and embrace them.
It is emphasized during bilateral talks that we describe integration as active participation of our citizens into the life of the society they live in. So, it is expected from these countries to eliminate the discriminatory elements from their immigration/integration laws and policies.
It is desired that members of Turkish community actively participate into the social, economical, cultural and political life of host countries while maintaining their ties to their motherland, mother tongue and culture, and live as happy, prosperous, successful individuals respecting local laws and customs.
In line with our understanding to diversify and increase the quality of consular services provided at our missions abroad, legal counselors are employed since 2001 in order to provide legal information and guidance to our citizens if they need so.
Foreigners including Turkish citizens are allowed to participate in local elections in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Slovenia and Slovakia on condition that they reside in that country for a certain period of time. Furthermore, Turkish citizens in the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal and Czech Republic could vote during the local elections on the condition of reciprocity. Our citizens are expected to become active persons in the political life of the country they live in.
Xenophobia, Discrimination, Racism and Islamophobia:
As xenophobia, discrimination and racism have gained a new dimension with religious axis and Islamophobia following the 9/11, expression and occurrence of hatred have also increased. Turkish community in West Europe constitutes the majority of Muslim population thus is directly affected by these adverse trends.
The attacks and arsons targeting Turkish community members in West European countries have been increased. We express our expectation at bilateral talks with the authorities of the concerned countries that the investigation processes concerning the attacks and arsons to be finalized in due time, no case to be closed unless the perpetrators be caught and sentenced and also necessary measures to be taken in order to prevent the repetition of such incidents.
It is of high importance for policy makers and media to adopt a responsible attitude in the establishment of understanding and tolerance between host countries and immigrants. It is expressed during bilateral talks that policy makers and media are expected to refrain from statements and attitudes that would exacerbate xenophobia, discrimination and Islamaphobia. The importance of their role in improving confidence between migrants and the host society is also emphasized.
The low employment rate has become a serious issue for the Turkish community abroad. Unemployment rate among the Turkish community is above that of the host country’s average. Having a good command of local language contributes a lot to educational success of Turkish community members and increases their chances to be employed. The importance of higher education and vocational training is emphasized on every occasion.
Turkish NGOs Abroad:
Turkish community members are encouraged to establish NGOs in order to represent them in public and to have direct contact with host country governments. Collecting the NGOs around common goals and interests as “umbrella organizations” will facilitate their demands to be heard more effectively. It is of high importance for these NGOs to be active both locally and internationally.
Education and Turkish Mother Tongue Courses:
In order to ensure active participation, it is of vital importance to provide equal opportunity for the immigrants’ children to learn their mother-tongue as well as culture and history.
In this context, the opportunity for the Turkish community to learn their mother tongue is an issue closely followed by Turkish Government. Turkish citizens who are bilingual and have the opportunity to preserve their own identity would be a more equipped individual in today’s globalized world and would contribute to further bilateral relations between Turkey and the host countries.
To this end, Turkey has been appointing, in cooperation with host countries, teachers for Turkish language and culture. Currently 1.618 Turkish language teachers, 112 Turkish language lecturers are posted to the countries where the members of the Turkish community live. Our missions are working in close cooperation with the parents’ associations with a view to increase the number of teachers, to enable locally employed teachers of Turkish origin to participate in in-service trainings in Turkey and to increase the number of teachers of Turkish origin at pre-schools.
Religious officers are assigned to provide religious knowledge to Turkish community members and help them to perform religious duties. Currently 1.282 religious officers are providing religious services to Turkish community members.
Bilateral Social Security Agreements:
Bilateral social security agreements are signed with the countries where Turkish citizens live in order to guarantee their social security rights both in home country and host countries.
There are currently 28 countries (Germany, Albania, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Georgia, Croatia, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, TRNC, Canada, Quebec, Libya, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Norway, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovakia and South Korea. Due to the secession, the existing agreement with Serbia was renewed and a new agreement with Montenegro was signed.) with which Turkey has signed such agreements. An agreement which allows the pension of Turkish citizens retired in Bulgaria to be transferred to Turkey was signed between Turkey and Bulgaria. A comprehensive bilateral social security agreement has not been concluded yet. The negotiations on social security agreements are continuing with Ukraine, Morocco, Belarus, Algeria, Ireland, Poland and Bulgaria at the moment.
The social security agreements concluded with above-mentioned countries allow our citizens to be equally treated by related authorities abroad in terms of their social security rights and responsibilities, and provide them with opportunities to unite durations of their insured services at both countries.