Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Ethnicity within Ethnicity' among the Turkish-Speaking Immigrants in London

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Ethnicity within Ethnicity' among the Turkish-Speaking Immigrants in London

Article excerpt

Turkish Cypriots first came to Britain as of the 1920s much earlier than most mainlanders. (1) Cyprus was a British colony between 1878 and 1960, and the rate of Turkish Cypriot immigrants increased following the end of British rule, which had been replaced by political turmoil and bloody clashes between the two ethnic communities of the Island. Another extensive flow of migration came after the atrocities following the Greek coup and the subsequent Turkish invasion in 1974. At the end of 1970s, the number of Turkish Cypriots in Britain was recorded as around 40.000. (2) This immigration continued until recently. Every year, a couple of thousands are added to the total number, which now appears to have reached a point of satiation. Estimates in the early 2000s suggested that 120.000 out of 250.000 Turkish-speaking immigrants living in Britain were Turkish Cypriots. (3) Today, according to the Turkish Consulate General in London's estimate, their number is approximately 130.000. Their numbers have recently been outpaced by the immigrants of Turkish nationality (including students, au pairs and unregistered refugees), whose number is estimated at 150.000. (4)

Due to their much longer presence in Britain and to their familiarity with English culture through their colonial experience in Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots have accommodated to London life much better than the later immigrants from Turkey.

The first wave of Turkish Cypriot immigrants made their living mostly as unskilled laborers in the textile industry (see below). In addition, they were also engaged in the service industry and small retail trades such as catering, restaurants, bakery, grocery, hairdressing, dry cleaning and mini cab driving. But their children and grand children found opportunities for quality education, became fluent English speakers and found social and professional mobility, accessing prestigious occupational fields. Today, the Turkish Cypriots are teachers, civil servants, pharmacists, doctors, dentists, accountants, lawyers, insurers and entrepreneurs. (5)

The migration of Turks (read as immigrants from Turkey who have ethnically Turkish origins and/or identify themselves as Turkish) to Britain started to be significant in the early 1970s. Britain was not among the European countries that attracted mainland Turkish labor immigration on a large scale. (6) Originally, Turks traveled to Britain with educational goals in mind, such as improving their English and to pursue higher education. Therefore, the first Turks immigrating to Britain were young, educated, urban, middle class men. Many sought ways to stay permanently in Britain, particularly through arranged marriages with British citizens.

The first wave of Turkish migration to Britain gained momentum in the early 1970s, owing to the need for cheap labor in the textile and food industries, both of which were previously the domain of Turkish (and also Greek) Cypriots. The latter started to leave this type of work either because their socio-economic status had improved or they were not willing to maintain burdensome and low-level jobs anymore, or they were aging and close to retirement. At this point, certain Turkish Cypriots, familiar with these sectors were hired by employment agencies to serve as intermediaries to bring in human labor from abroad. Here, language played a crucial role. The agencies, administrated by Turkish Cypriots, turned towards the rural poor of Anatolian towns to meet this demand. So, a labor migration from Turkey to Britain (nearly exclusively to London) occurred particularly in the period between 1968 and 1972. Nearly all of these immigrants were men who would bring their wives and children to London years later.

Although the textile industry was the major sector for these subsistence laborers in London during the 1970s and 1980s, Turkish immigrants found many opportunities in the food sector as well. Because the 1970s was marked by a scarcity of workers in this sector, and because many Turkish Cypriot immigrants were already engaged in this trade. …

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