« The Chinese are coming (to Europe, that is) | Gene Expression Front Page | Outsource the Math Teacher »
January 25, 2005

And the Turks may not be coming

A week ago, news.google.ca began turning up links to an interesting paper: Refik Erzan, Umut Kuzubas and Nilufer Yildiz's "Growth and Immigration Scenarios for Turkey and the EU" (PDF format), written for the Centre for European Policy Studies.

The authors make the compelling argument that even if Turkey's bid for European Union membership is junked, Turkey will still exist as a source of migrants for the wider European Union. Indeed, if Turkey is excluded from membership in the European Union, the consequent underdevelopment may well encourage greater Turkish immigration into Europe. The authors examine first the experience of traditional southern European countries of emigration, then take an extra look at Turkey's experience.

Firstly, Turkey’s growth record clearly shows very high rates can be achieved but cannot be sustained without political stability and inflow of foreign savings. Without the EU anchor provided by the membership perspective, a growth performance that will cope with unemployment is not feasible.

Secondly, unlike successful accession scenarios, not only growth in Turkey would be slower and unemployment higher, but also sensitivity of migration to income and unemployment differences would be greater.

Thirdly, the prevailing restrictive visa system of the EU and the absence of labour mobility provisions cannot stop immigration. EU currently receives about 70,000 (gross) migrants from Turkey, annually. (Because of return migration, net migration is about half of this gross inflow figure.) Most of them come with family unification and family formation. In the presence of a very large Turkish migrant community in the EU of about 3 million (with major trade, investment, tourism and educational links), all conceivable tight door policies short of totalitarian rules would be porous. A relative deterioration in Turkey would certainly increase this inflow considerably and reduce return migration.

Finally, it should be noted that the eventuality of political turmoil was not incorporated in the projections. With the lost EU perspective and climbing unemployment, this is more than a slim possibility. Estimations based on past record show that political and security problems lead to waves of migration. Add that on top of the 2.7 million forecast!

As Kemal Kirisci noted in his Migration Information survey, "Turkey: A Transformation from Emigration to Immigration", Turkey has a history of receiving immigrants:

What is less well known is that Turkey has long been a country of immigration and asylum. From 1923 to 1997, more than 1.6 million people immigrated to Turkey, mostly from Balkan countries. During the Cold War, thousands of asylum seekers fled to Turkey from Communist states in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The overwhelming majority were recognized as refugees, and were resettled to third countries such as Canada and the United States by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In the late 1980s, this pattern began to change as increasing numbers of asylum seekers began to arrive from Iran and Iraq, as well as other developing nations. Turkey also experienced a mass influx of almost half a million mostly Kurdish refugees from Iraq in 1988 and 1991, as well as mass influxes of Albanians, Bosnian Muslims, Pomaks (Bulgarian-speaking Muslims), and Turks in 1989, 1992-1995, and 1999.

Now, given Turkish economic growth and demographic changes, the country might well become a country of net immigration, ironically taking forms of illegal entry familiar to students of immigration into the modern European Union:

Today, officially sanctioned immigration into Turkey has for all intent and purposes dropped to a trickle. Since the early 1990s, however, Turkey has witnessed a new form of irregular immigration involving nationals of neighboring countries, EU nationals, and transit migrants. Turkey allows nationals of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, and the Central Asian republics to enter the country quite freely either without visas or with visas that can easily be obtained at airports and other entry points. A large number of these people are involved in small-scale trade. However, some overstay their visas and illegally work as household help, commercial sex workers, and laborers, especially on construction sites and in the tourism sector.

It is very difficult to estimate the numbers of such irregular immigrants in Turkey. However, figures ranging from 150,000 to one million are often cited. To these groups must be added trafficked people, particularly women. These are people who have either been coerced or deceived into traveling to Turkey for commercial sex work, and remain in Turkey against their wishes. There is also an increasing number of EU member-state nationals engaged in professional activities who are settling in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul, as well as European retirees in some of the Mediterranean resorts. They, too, constitute a relatively new phenomenon in terms of immigration into Turkey, and their numbers are estimated at 100,000-120,000.

I find Kirisci's conclusion hard to disagree with:

One final challenge for the immediate future will be alleviating western European fears about waves of Turkish immigrants if Turkey is admitted as an EU member. One argument that could be raised is that a Turkey that becomes integrated into the EU is less likely to flood Europe with migrant labor than if it is kept outside the union. This argument is based on the fact that the EU now has a long record of stabilizing and helping to consolidate democracies and promote economic prosperity. In fact, an increasingly democratic and prosperous Turkey is more likely to become a country that attracts immigrants, particularly from Turkish communities in Europe. Greece, Spain, and Portugal, all of which saw many of their nationals return following their EU accession, are a case in point in this respect.

The precise terms of Turkish integration into the European Union seem open to debate, granted. Even so, it's a minor irony (or perhaps a major one) that opponents of Turkish immigration might have to support Turkey's entrance into the European confederation in order to diminish the flow of immigrants.

Posted by randymac at 08:08 PM