A celebration of “Türkischer Tag” (Turkish Day) near the Brandenburg Gate, in Germany's capital city of Berlin/ Photo: Danyalov/Wikipedia

“We are a country with a migration background” — German president

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has praised the families of Turkish immigrants as an important part of Germany. A Germany without the so-called guest workers, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would be “simply inconceivable” today, Steinmeier said on Friday at an event to mark the 60th anniversary of the German-Turkish recruitment agreement in Berlin. They and immigrants from other countries had contributed a great deal to Germany’s social openness and diversity, its economic strength and prosperity, the German ceremonial head of state added.

“Being German today can mean just as much that your grandparents come from Cologne or Königsberg as from Istanbul or Diyarbakir,” Steinmeier said while addressing the discussion event in Bellevue Palace. “They are not ‘people with a migration background’ – we are a country with a migration background!”

In his speech, Steinmeier also recalled images of recruitment that were “hard to bear”: “The humiliating body search during the recruitment examination, German medical officers examining dentures with heartless routine, numbered people in underwear; we see dilapidated barracks in which far too many had to live in the smallest of spaces; uprooted and debilitated people, emaciated by hard work.”

The President also recalled that many immigrants had not had an easy start in Germany 60 years ago. “There were no language courses, no support, no integration policy, for the simple reason that integration was simply not desired,” he said.

“After two years, people should pack their bags again.” Nothing changed for a long time because of these failures: “It was a long, painful road until our society was ready far too late to accept the inevitable and the overdue, the right thing: These so-called guest workers are neither just guests nor just workers.”

The opportunities for education and social advancement still differ “by worlds”, Steinmeier said. There will be “no better future as long as exclusion, prejudice and resentment permeate the everyday life of our society”. It shocked him when people with different skin colours, languages or religions became targets of hatred and agitation, he said. Xenophobia must never be tolerated in Germany, the president said.

Germany reacted to the increasing demand for labour by recruiting so-called guest workers from abroad in the years of the economic miracle, following the end of World War II. In 1955, the first recruitment agreement was concluded with Italy, followed by the agreement with Turkey on 30 October 1961. The labour migrants mainly took on jobs as unskilled or semi-skilled workers in agriculture, construction, the steel and automotive industries and mining.

Turks in Germany

Almost three million of Germany’s 83 million inhabitants are of Turkish origin, according to official statistics. However, this excludes ethnic Turks whose both parents were born with German citizenship as well as the significant ethnic Turkish communities which have migrated to Germany from other countries such as the Balkans and the Levant. As of 2020, numerous scholars have estimated that there could be up to 7 million people of Turkish origin in Germany.

Austin Ohaegbu

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