12.5 C
Frankfurt am Main

Turkish expats in Germany hope for citizenship law overhaul

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Şener Sargut is from Turkey but has lived in Germany for over six decades, is married to a German woman and speaks the local language fluently.

Yet the 80-year-old does not hold German nationality, as taking up citizenship of his adopted homeland would mean giving up his Turkish passport.

But that could be set to change.

Reforms under consideration could end Germany’s restrictive nationality laws and open the door for people from more countries to become dual citizens, including those from the large Turkish community.

“I often thought about getting German citizenship but then I always held off because I would have to give up Turkish citizenship,” Sargut told AFP from his home in Frankfurt.

“I did not want to do that.”

The pensioner, a founder of TGD, a non-profit group that advocates for Germany’s Turkish community, says he is “outraged” that change has been so slow — but is optimistic it could finally happen.

Şener Sargut looks on during an interview at his home in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on March 27, 2023. – Sargut, 80 years old, arrived in Frankfurt from Turkey in 1959. He still does not hold German citizenship but he hopes that an expected change to the laws will allow him to get German citizenship, without having to give up his Turkish nationality. (Photo by ANDRE PAIN / AFP)

“It would be a good step, not just for us, but for the country itself,” said the father of two, who spent years as head of department at an education center.

German’s coalition government is engaged in talks over the plans and there have been positive signals that an agreement could soon be reached.

‘Guest worker’ influx

Sargut arrived in Frankfurt in 1959 from İstanbul to study, two years before an agreement was signed paving the way for a huge number of Turks to move to work in Germany.

Germany was still getting back on its feet after World War II and desperately needed labor in many areas –- to rebuild devastated cities, work in shipyards, steelworks and car plants.

As well as Turkey, Berlin struck deals with other countries to bring in so-called “guest workers” on a temporary basis, including Italy, Tunisia and Greece.

About 870,000 Turks went to Germany under the agreement, which ran until 1973. Hundreds of thousands ended up staying, ushering in major social and demographic changes in Europe’s most populous country.

The newcomers had few rights in the early days and faced poor treatment, according to Sargut, who got heavily involved in fighting to improve the lot of his compatriots.

The situation improved over the years and many brought family to Germany, but the route to citizenship remained tough.

They had to learn German to a good standard, prove they had integrated into society — and, crucially, give up their Turkish nationality, heart-wrenching for many who still had strong ties to their homeland.

Former chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives have for decades been skeptical about lifting barriers on citizenship, arguing that lax rules would not bring about the integration of newcomers into society.

‘Modern citizenship law’

But Germany’s coalition government — which took power in 2021 and comprises the left-wing SPD, the Greens and the liberal FDP — has pledged to forge a new “modern citizenship law.”

A draft bill under consideration would open up a path for most foreigners to become dual nationals, generally limited to EU and Swiss citizens at present.

The planned reforms also include lowering the number of years of residency needed for naturalization to five from eight currently — and even three in some cases.

To help integrate those from the “guest worker” generation, language requirements — a stumbling block for some older immigrants who mixed little outside their communities — would be eased.

The impact on the Turkish community could be potentially huge, affecting up to one million people, according to TGD.

Germany, with a population of around 84 million, is home to some 2.8 million people with a Turkish background, according to statistics.

The planned citizenship overhaul was mentioned in a sweeping agreement signed when the coalition government was formed.

The changes, it said, are aimed at better reflecting the social make-up of modern Germany — a “diverse, immigrant society.”

There are also economic considerations. Europe’s biggest economy is trying to attract foreign workers to plug acute labor shortages, and is keen to make itself a more attractive destination.

The FDP had initially expressed reservations about the plans but recently there have been signs of progress.

In a recent interview with RND media group, Justice Minister Marco Buschmann of the FDP outlined some of his party’s demands — but also said he was “optimistic” a deal could be agreed soon.

© Agence France-Presse

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