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Background Information

Turkey Turkey’s Asylum Policy Syrian Refugees in Turkey Background Information Historical Trends Immigration Policy Citizenship Refuge and Asylum Foreign Population Irregular Migration Current Development References

Background Information

Ahmet İçduygu Deniz Sert

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Turkey has largely been considered a country of emigration throughout much of the 20th century. However, the last quarter of the 20th century witnessed a significant change in Turkey's role in international migration regimes as it transformed into a transit and immigration country.

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With the exception of the influx of the Turkish Muslim populations of the Ottoman Empire who were left out of its newly established borders in 1923, Turkey has largely been considered a country of emigration throughout much of the 20th century. Emigration that began in the early 20th century with the outflow of non-Muslim populations from Anatolia as a part of the nation-building process, continued in the 1960s and 1970s in the form of labor migration by Turkish nationals, mainly to Western Europe and especially to Germany. It continued until recent times in the form of family reunification and asylum applications, resulting in the establishment of a large Turkish community within the borders of the European Union.

Background InformationTurkey

Capital: Ankara
Official language: Turkish
Area: 783 562 km2
Population (2007): 70 586 256
Population density (2007): 90 per km2
Population growth (2006): 1.3 %
Foreign nationals as percentage of population (2006):
0.3 %
Labour force participation rate (2008): 45.2 % (OECD)
Unemployment rate (2008): 11.7 %
Religions (2005): 99.8 % Muslim, 0.2 % Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Protestants and other non-Muslims

However, the last quarter of the 20th century witnessed a significant change in Turkey's role in international migration regimes as it transformed into a transit and immigration country. Migration patterns involving Turkey have been changing constantly since then. International events, such as the 1973 oil crisis, the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, the end of the Cold War, the Gulf War, the break-up of former Yugoslavia, and the recent conflict in Iraq, have affected migratory movements to and from Turkey.

The geographical position of the country as a bridge between the politically and economically unstable East and the prosperous West also adds to the complexity of the migratory movements. Turkey has become a country of transit for irregular migrants from Asian countries, such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan, who are attempting to reach the West.

In the meantime, it is turning into a country of immigration for EU professionals and retirees. There are also regular and irregular migrants from former Soviet Bloc countries arriving in the country. Additionally, Turkey is becoming a safe haven for asylum-seekers originating from neighboring countries of the Middle East and beyond.

Turkey's transition from being a predominantly migrant-sending country to a migrant-receiving country, and its ongoing effort to become a member of the European Union, are generating pressure to reform Turkish immigration policies, a big challenge that Turkey has to face in the very near future.

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Ahmet İçduygu is the Director of the Migration Research Program (MiReKoc) in the Department of International Relations at Koç University, Istanbul.

Deniz Sert is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Migration Research Program (MiReKoc) at Koç University, Istanbul.