Turkey as a Migration Hub in the Middle East

By Elitok, Secil Pacaci; Straubhaar, Thomas | Insight Turkey, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Turkey as a Migration Hub in the Middle East


Elitok, Secil Pacaci, Straubhaar, Thomas, Insight Turkey


Located at the geographical intersection between East and West, with both Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts, Turkey has historically been a host country for important population movements. There were several waves of forced (ethnic) movement of populations, as a consequence of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the following nation-building process in the region of modern day Turkey (emigration of Muslim populations from the Balkans to Anatolia and immigration of non-Muslim minority groups).

In the post-Second world war period, Turkey became a country of emigration. In 1961 a bilateral agreement on labor recruitment between Turkey and Germany was signed. In the following years, similar bilateral agreements were reached with several other European countries (Austria, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden).

Nowadays, things have changed. Turkey is still a country of emigration. But it has also become a country of immigration and transit. (1) After the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, immigration from the region to Turkey increased substantially. A lively cross-border movement with the countries of the former Soviet Union, but also with the Middle East countries, has occurred. And therefore, it faces similar challenges of migration and integration that are characteristic of other areas with strong cross-cultural population movements. (2)

Revisiting Migration of Turkey

Emigration from Turkey

In the times of the "Gastarbeiter" system of the 1960s until the early 1970s about 800.000 Turkish workers were recruited to Western Europe. (3) After the economic turbulences consequent to the first oil crisis, Western European countries stopped the recruitment of non-EC-workers. However, those already working in the European Community (EC) could stay and many were even allowed the right to family reunification. Thus, the number of people with a Turkish background living in the European Union (EU) continued to increase, reaching about 2.74 million in 2008 (see Table 1).

In recent decades, there have been five main types of emigration of Turkish citizens to the EU area: "family-related emigration, asylum-seeking, irregular (undocumented or clandestine) labor emigration, contract-related (low-skilled) labor emigration, and emigration of professional and highly-skilled people." (4)

According to Table 1, about 3.38 million people with a Turkish background live outside Turkey today. A 40 percent increase in comparison to 1985. The majority of Turkish migration went to Germany where today around 1,9 million people of Turkish origin now live. While the total has not changed a lot since the mid-1990s, the geographical distribution has become different. In the mid-1990s, about 86 percent of Turks living abroad were in Europe. This share has declined to about 80 percent today.

Migration flows to Europe are down to 50-60,000 a year. The channel for this type of emigration has overwhelmingly been through family formation or family reunification. As reported by the German Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) on the basis of provisional results, 30.000 people from Turkey immigrated to Germany in 2009 and 40.000 people have left Germany with the destination of "Turkey." Hence, the direction of migration has reversed between Europe and Turkey. There are now more people emigrating from Germany to Turkey, than people emigrating from Turkey to Germany. (5)

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

An increased number of Turkish citizens have gone to the countries of the former Soviet Union. However, compared to the total, the emigration flows to close neighboring countries have remained very small. This is also true for the emigration flows from Turkey to the Middle East. Only about 3 percent of all Turkish citizens living abroad have emigrated to the Middle East.

Interestingly enough, the asylum channel, heavily and controversially debated in the EU and especially in Germany in the 1990s, does not play an important role anymore. …

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