Turkish talent turns back on Netherlands

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

The young people of the Netherlands’ ethnic Turkish community used to be a shining example of successful integration, but many are now turning their backs on Dutch society. Some of the more well-educated among them are even leaving the country to seek work in Turkey.

For years, Turkish migrants and their children were hailed as the success story of integration into Dutch society. They were entrepreneurial, set up their own companies and Turkish youths didn’t cause trouble. As a result, government subsidies were earmarked for other migrant groups – which were more a source of problems - such as young Antilleans and Moroccans.

But things have changed, it seems. The country’s official statistics bureau, Statistics Netherlands, recently said there is a growing problem with the integration of Dutch-Turkish youths. And now a group of Turkish professionals, including entrepreneurs and pedagogue Kadir Tas, have raised their concerns too, putting them down in an open letter, published in a national newspaper this week.

Safety net
The Turkish community in the Netherlands is close-knit and has always relied on its own social organisations. As a result, problems in this community have remained scarcely visible to outsiders.

However, Kadir Tas says, the Turkish social safety net is now disintegrating. This is partly because those who made up the first wave of migrants are ageing rapidly, and also because of a lack of funding and subsidies for the community’s own organisations. So, young people of Turkish origin are having to do without the safety net. What’s more, they now feel shut out of the labour market, too. Kadir Tas:

“We’ve noticed that discrimination has increased substantially in recent years. We are seeing that young people are not even being invited for job interviews.[...] These young people hardly have any chance at all on the labour market.”

Language problems
The authors of the letter say they have tried to draw the attention of Dutch politicians to the problem, but so far without success. Tofik Dibi - integration spokesperson for the opposition Green Left party in parliament, and himself of Turkish origin - does not agree with the criticism. He says this issue is often discussed by politicians. He believes young members of his own community still have that enterprising spirit, but do lag behind when it comes to gaining the necessary language skills at school:

“For me this letter provides a reason to ask the minister once again to do more to tackle language problems”

The letter’s authors also point out that young Dutch-Turks are becoming more and more susceptible to the ideas of radical Islam. But other experts say it’s too early to draw conclusions like this. They argue that the kind of frustrations experienced by this particular group of young people only lead to radicalisation to a limited extent.

Off the rails
Professor Tijl Sunier of Amsterdam’s Free University has studied Turkey and Islam in Europe for many years, and he sees the situation a little differently:  

“We now have a generation that was born and bred in het Netherlands. But they are still regarded as outsiders who have to prove they are worth giving a proper place in society. I think that is a very serious problem [...] I know this from conversations with young people. They’re wondering: what do I have to do to become accepted?”

It is also seen as a bad sign that some well-educated young Dutch Turks are now looking to build their future in Turkey. While there is little in the way of exact or reliable figures, this does appear to be a growing problem. The fear is that if young well-educated Dutch Turks leave the Netherlands, there will be no-one left to set an example for other less well-educated Dutch Turks, who may then be even more likely to go off the rails.