Neglect's Costs: Turkish Integration in Germany

Article excerpt

The construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 exacerbated a labor shortage in West Germany. In response, the Federal Republic decided to include Turkey in its foreign worker recruitment program. In the following years, Turks were allowed into Germany as guest workers with the expectation that their stay would be temporary.

Today, Turks are the largest ethnic minority in Germany, constituting 2.4 percent of the population. They also form a large part of the growing Muslim presence in Germany. Owing to a change in nationality laws in 1999, many are now German citizens, but natives and immigrants continue to clash. Unfortunately, the small-scale nature of recent integration initiatives suggests that the German government fails to recognize the deep roots of this problem.

The task's difficulty results partly from longstanding native opposition to immigration, which has left Germany ill-equipped to deal with integration problems. Turkish Germans suffer from obstacles common to immigrants, including the language barrier, a lower economic starting point, and racism. In 1993, Science reported that Turkish teenagers were eight times less likely to attend university than were their German counterparts. Even now, Turks tend to live in all-immigrant, lower-income communities feared by native Germans as crime zones. Sadly, this perception is sometimes quite close to reality, and it lends lamentable support to prejudices. A study by the Bavarian police reported in April 1998 that crime rates among foreigners between the ages of 14 and 17 tended to be three times higher than that among native Germans.

Gangs are a particularly problematic source of German fears. In 2003, a gang of mostly Turkish immigrant schoolboys was accused, and the majority convicted, of organized violence against German classmates. One local politician was reported in the Daily Telegraph as saying that Turkish communities themselves produced violent children, citing in particular a Turkish culture of machismo. …