Research Article

DOI :10.26650/senectus.2023.1.1.0006   IUP :10.26650/senectus.2023.1.1.0006    Full Text (PDF)

The First Generation of Turks in Germany in the 60 Years of Immigration

Saliha Kocaman Wilutzki

“Guest worker” migration from Turkey to Germany had its 60th anniversary on October 30, 2021. It began in 1961 and was initially based on a rotation principle: the residence period of “guest workers” was determined to be one or two years. Neither migrant workers nor the German state imagined that the immigrants would not return to their countries, but choose to remain in Germany. This paper focuses on the first-generation immigrants from Turkey, who aged in Germany. The existing literature was investigated and studies on the first generation in various fields were analyzed. Their living situation is discussed from different perspectives, such as demography, health, economy, and elderly care. In Germany, immigrants of retirement age struggle in economic, health, and social areas at this stage of their lives. Immigrants should be provided social participation opportunities in old age. In addition, their integration into socio-cultural life and their economic conditions should be improved. For this, it is necessary to determine their needs and to open the existing general institutions of elderly care to them, so that the country could become more inclusive and accessible towards elderly immigrants.

DOI :10.26650/senectus.2023.1.1.0006   IUP :10.26650/senectus.2023.1.1.0006    Full Text (PDF)

Gurbet Die-Fremde Almanya’ya Göçün 60’ıncı Yılında Türkiye’den Almanya’ya Giden İlk Kuşak

Saliha Kocaman Wilutzki

Türkiye’den Almanya’ya “misafir işçi” göçü 30 Ekim 2021’de 60. yılını geride bırakmıştır. 1961 tarihli Rotasyon Prensibine dayalı işçi alımında, “Misafir işçilerin” Almanya’daki ikamet süresi bir iki yıl olarak belirlenmiştir. Ne göçmen işçiler ne de Almanya göçmenlerin yaşamlarını Almanya’da idame ettireceklerini tahayyül etmemişlerdir. Bu çalışma Türkiye’den Almanya’ya gelmiş ve burada yaşlanmış birinci kuşak Türkiye kökenli göçmenler üzerine yapılmıştır. İkincil analiz yöntemiyle, mevcut literatür taraması yapılmış, birinci kuşak üzerine çeşitli alanlarda gerçekleştirilmiş araştırmalar analiz edilmiştir. Elde edilen verilerle birinci kuşağın yaşam durumu, demografi, sağlık, ekonomi, yardıma ve bakıma muhtaçlık gibi perspektiflerden ele alınmıştır. Elde edilen bulgularla da birinci kuşağın durum analizi ve durum değerlendirmesi yapılması amaçlanmıştır. Almanya’nın göçmen politikası 2000’li yıllara kadar rotasyon prensibini izlemiştir. Almanya’da göçmenlerin yerleşik toplumun bir parçası olması halinde yapılması gereken hazırlıklar yapılmamıştır. Almanya’da emeklilik yaşındaki göçmenler yaşamlarının bu evresinde ekonomik, sağlık ve sosyal alanlarda dezavantajlıdırlar ve yaşam mücadelesi vermektedirler. Mücadelesi vermektedirler. 2000’li yıllarda göçmen kökenli yaşlıların yaşam durumu üzerine araştırmalar yapılmaya başlanmış olsa da, göçmen kökenli yaşlıların yaşam durumu üzerine tatminkâr bir durum tespiti yapılması için yeterli değildir. Göçmenlerin yaşlılıkta sosyal katılım fırsatlarına erişebilmesi, sosyo-kültürel yaşama entegrasyonu ve ekonomik şartlarının iyileştirilmesi gerekmektedir. Bunun için öncelikle göçmen yaşlıların ihtiyaçlarının belirlenmesi ve ihtiyaçların giderilmesinde hizmet verecek kurumların kapılarının göçmen yaşlılara açılması gerekmektedir.


“Guest worker” migration from Turkey to Germany had its 60th anniversary on October 30, 2021. It began in 1961, and in the recruitment of workers based on the Rotation Principle, the residence period in Germany was determined to be one or two years. Neither migrant workers nor the German society imagined that the migrants would choose to remain in Germany.

This study was carried out on first generation immigrants of Turkish origin who traveled to Germany from Turkey, eventually reaching old-age there. With the secondary analysis method, the existing literature was investigated and the research on the first generation in various fields were analyzed. With the data obtained, the living situation of the first generation has been discussed from perspectives, such as demography, health, economy, need for help, and elderly care. With the findings obtained, this study aimed to produce a situation analysis and situation assessment of the first generation of Turkish migrant workers in Germany.

The annual patrol of the Labor Agreement between Turkey and Germany was celebrated on November 30, 2021, with the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, organizing an invitation at the Bellevue Palace on September 10, 2021, on the occasion of the “60th Anniversary of the Labor Agreement with Turkey.” Citizens of Turkish origin from many professional groups participated in this event. President Steinmeier began his speech by reading German translations of the following lines of the song “Gurbet” Song composed by Özdemir Erdoğan in 1972 about those who went abroad:

“What should I do when I am abroad?

Tell me if it’s possible to live far away from the yard.”

In addition to the fact that the labor agreement reached 60 years as of 2021, the preparation process of this study also coincides with another very special process in Germany. The ruling German government has accelerated its efforts to enact a new citizenship and dual citizenship law, which is planned to be passed by the parliament in the first months of 2023. This law is part of the coalition agreement made by the coalition government. In the event that this law is passed, many immigrant groups in Germany, who have been regarded as “guest workers” until now and considered as “foreigners” who do not have the necessary conditions for obtaining citizenship, will have the right to obtain German citizenship.

According to this new law, the possibility of dual citizenship for them will not be subject to any major conditions. For example, while knowing written and spoken German well was a very important condition for obtaining citizenship before, with this law, it is sufficient for the first generation to express themselves in an understandable language. It was stated that migrant workers over the age of 67 already fulfill the requirements to obtain citizenship.

Before moving to the labor migration agreement between Germany and Turkey and when the migration from Turkey to Germany began, it is necessary to briefly mention the Marshall plan that led to migration to Germany and the developments it brought for the country.

In short, after the end of the Second World War, economic problems began to emerge in Germany. After a harsh winter, food, energy supply, and transportation collapsed in the country. With the help of the United States and Great Britain, greater disasters were prevented from occurring in Germany. The Marshall Plan is the name of the development plan that was made under the leadership of US Secretary of State George C. Marshall to compensate Europe for the economic collapse that occurred after the Second World War and to develop the economy of European countries. 

With the financial aid sent from the USA in 1948, Europe, and especially Germany, entered a period of rapid development. The largest part of these aids was sent to West Germany which had rapid growth as a result of these aids.

This rapid growth has been called the “Wirtschaftswunder” or “Economic Miracle”. Since there was not enough labor force in the country for the production realized at that time, employment agreements were made with various countries.

The “Guest Worker” migration, which began with the employment contract between Italy and Germany in 1955, was followed by contracts made with Spain and Greece in 1960. As stated above, a contract was signed with Turkey on October 30, 1961 (Aydın, 2019). Further agreements were made with countries such as Morocco in 1963, Portugal in 1964, Tunisia in 1965, and the former Yugoslavia in 1968 (Düzgün, 1996: 34).

Following the Labor Migration Agreement signed in 1961, a one-year contract was signed with 400 workers from Turkey to work in a mine, with 55 of these workers arriving in Germany on November 27, 1961. The plans of the first generation who immigrated to Germany from Turkey were to work as hard as possible in Germany during the planned two years, to save as much as possible, and to make an investment in Turkey with these savings. For some, this investment was to buy a house or own a tractor, while for others, it was to buy a shop and carry on their previous work without paying rent.

The employers’ and workers’ unions in Germany soon concluded that employment based on the rotation principle should be abolished and the incoming workers should remain in the country. As a result, the principle of rotation was abandoned and a new agreement was signed with Turkey on September 30, 1964, with the two-year residence restriction subsequently being lifted. Despite the abolition of the rotation principle,migration, which the first generation imagined to complete with a definite return after a few years of work, was postponed due to economic, social, and political issues experienced in both countries. For these reasons, the first generation, who delayed their return, brought their wives and children to Germany through the Family Reunification Act of 1974, after hiring was canceled in 1973. The number of immigrants of Turkish origin in Germany has continued to increase through family reunification. With the arrival of the families, the idea of returning was not abandoned. The thought shifted to returning to their homes with their children and spouses after gaining financial savings that would facilitate their families’ lives in Turkey.

Although the first generation were generally male workers, women were given priority in recruitment after 1968. Women recruited from Turkey after 1968 were primarily employed in the electrical industry, helping in the production of precision mechanics. Women’s hands were seen as more suitable for working in this field due to their smaller size and more delicate nature. As such, priority to recruit women was given for the new wave of workers from Turkey.

Migration from Turkey began with the guest worker migration in 1961 and continued with the migration of family members in the 1970s. This was followed by political refugee migration in the 1980s, and further by the migration movements triggered by the fight against terrorism in the 1990s. It has been observed that two more forms of migration have been added to this since the 1990s: student migration and highly skilled labor migration (Aydın, 2019). Qualified labor migration still continues, with the law planned to be enacted in 2023 potentially making it easier to come from Turkey to Germany in the coming years.

Today, Germany is one of the countries with the largest immigrant population in Europe. About 60 years ago, only one percent of Germany’s population consisted of foreign nationals. The group of Turkish “guest workers” who arrived in 1961 comprised one percent of the total population of all foreigners.

With a population of 22.3 million foreigners as of 2021, immigrants constituted 27% of the total population (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2022). Today, 2.85 million immigrant citizens with a background from Turkey live in Germany. Citizens of Turkish origin living in Germany constitute 24.4% of citizens with a migrant background. Accordingly, 3.5% of the total population in Germany consists of citizens of Turkish origin (Schührer, 2018, s. 14), making up the largest demographics of foreigners in Germany (Destatis, 2017).

Living status of senior citizens with Turkish origin in Germany

The biggest difficulty in describing the living situation of senior citizens in these 60 years is the limited data which exists. The current literature analysis provides limited information on the living conditions during the migration years. Until the 2000s, there are no long-term studies in this area that can be considered as a precedent. For this reason, the opportunity to analyze the complex factors that determine the living situation of immigrants in old age remains limited. Although research has begun on the living conditions of the elderly with immigrant backgrounds after the 2000s, it is not sufficient to make a satisfactory due diligence on the living conditions of the elderly with an immigrant background.

With the available data, immigrants of retirement age in Germany are struggling to survive in the economic, health, and social areas at this stage of their lives. It is seen that the elderly immigrants of Turkish origin are faced with many health problems in their later years due to the living conditions specific to immigration. Again, the difficulty of working conditions negatively affected the health of immigrants physically and psychosomatically, and as a result, early retirement became inevitable. Early retirement also means receiving less pension. Although the need for help and care in old age is high among the elderly with an immigrant background, only one out of ten people can receive professional help and care in old age. The needs of the older migrant elders are balanced by intergenerational cooperation. However, due to the changing living conditions in the lives of the second and third generations, it is seen that the need for the care and assistance of the elderly people with an immigrant background cannot be met with intergenerational solidarity in the future. For this reason, it is necessary to open the way of professional/institutional assistance and care in old age to elderly people of Turkish origin.

Elderly people of an immigrant background, who were considered to be “guest workers” for Germany until a short time ago, are now considered an indispensable part of the country. The new citizenship bill, which is currently being prepared and is considered to be passed by the parliament in the first months of 2023, enables immigrants over the age of 67 to new and dual citizenship, considered as a “thank you” for their efforts for Germany. In the years when the 60th anniversary of the migration is left behind, it is accepted that the first generation has contributed to the development of Germany and is a part of the German society. The question of “when will they return” has long been set aside. 

Still, the living conditions of these citizens of immigrant origin, who have contributed to Germany’s development, need to be improved by providing them with the same living opportunities as the citizens of German origin, by offering other rights and opportunities, just as the country is planning on granting the right of dual citizenship. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to determine the needs of the immigrant elderly and to ensure that the relevant institutions provide the service that can meet the demands of this group who has proven to be important to modern German history. 

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