Germany held ceremonies Monday, October 29, for the 40th anniversary of the start of its massive Turkish "guest workers" program — its first grand postwar experiment with foreign labor — with a critical look at its success at integrating immigrants.
At a commemorative ceremony in the state house of North Rhine-Westphalia, the western German region where the program was born, political officials and Turkish community leaders noted that while Turks have carved out a niche for themselves in German society, language and cultural barriers persist.
More ceremonies are to held in different German towns Tuesday, four decades after Germany and Turkey on October 30, 1961 in Bad Godesburg in North Rhine-Westphalia signed the "Pact on Recruitment of Turkish Labor" to supply workers for jobs that Germans could not or would not take.
At the time, some 500,000 positions were unfilled while only 180,000 West Germans were out of work. "Turks have fully integrated themselves in work life," said Hakki Keskin, chairman of the Turkish community in Germany — the country's largest immigrant group. "But some more work needs to be done on integration."
Harald Schartau, labor minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, acknowledged that Germany "had for years done far too little" in its education and housing policy to make Turks feel part of its society.
The initial program led to later agreements with Portugal, Tunisia, Morocco and Yugoslavia but Turks remained the largest group of immigrants.
By the end of 1961, some 6,800 Turkish workers had arrived in the country. Most of these early arrivals came with just a suitcase and took positions on the assembly line at the Cologne plant of US automaker Ford.
By the time of the oil crisis in 1973, when the recruitment program was abandoned, the figure reached more than 910,000. Immigration, however, continued through the 1980s.
Although the program was initially intended for short-term stints to fill gaps in the labor market, tens of thousands of Turks stayed on in the country, had families and built lives.
Today, some 2.5 million people of Turkish origin live in Germany, including 400,000 with German nationality. They comprise 28 percent of the immigrant population, making them largest single non-German ethnic group in the country. Germany's population is 82 million. ― (AFP, Berlin)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )