Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
At the 2001 Census there were 127,226 Turks (1.6% of the population), but many have naturalized and the full community is estimated to number between 200,000 and 300,000. Turks are the largest single immigrant group, the leading group seeking Austrian citizenship, and account for the majority of Muslims. The Islamic faith was given official recognition as a religious society in 1979 and a representative council was set up. From 1979 Turkish-language education was offered to Turkish children in schools in Vienna and some other provinces. The aim of this was that the children should ultimately return to Turkey. Community support organizations tend to be politicized, especially left-wing and right-wing Turkish organizations and Kurdish separatist organizations, which have links to Turkish and Kurdish communities in other European countries and to organizations in Turkey.
The left-wing Turkish organizations in Vienna also have links to the Austrian Socialist Party and the Green Party, both of which have adopted naturalized Turkish candidates generally and non-Austrian Turkish candidates in the 2005 Viennese district council elections. The latter were open to foreigners for the first time. There are also Islamic and Turkish women’s organizations. Turks live in all nine provinces, the majority in Vienna (thought to be some 200,000), followed by Lower Austria, Vorarlberg, Upper Austria, Tyrol and Salzburg.
Turks were recruited to Austria as Gastarbeiter (guest workers) for the construction and export industries following an agreement with the Turkish government in 1964. From 1971 Turkish migrants included Turkish and Kurdish political refugees. From 1973 the policy of encouraging guest workers ended and restrictive immigration laws were introduced, first with the 1975 Aliens Employment Act, setting quotas on work permits, and then the 1992 Residence Act, which set quotas for residency permits without the right to work. A more restrictive system was put in place in 1997 and further limits imposed in 2006.
Since the 1970s Turks living and working in Austria have focused on family reunification and on seeking Austrian citizenship, for which they need to have lived in Austria for 10 years.
The Austrian government tried and failed to block the start of Turkish negotiations to join the European Union in October 2005.
There has been a rise in harassment and racial violence against Turks since the events of 11 September 2001 and the 2005 Madrid and London bombings.
Turkish men and women suffer discrimination in employment and housing. Turks are under-represented in higher education, especially women and second-generation youth. Support groups from the community and government have established programmes to tackle these problems.
Turkish women often are denied the right to work, if they are family members of male workers, by the residency and employment permit system.
Turkish men and women who are not Austrian citizens and who are in employment, make contributions to social welfare funds but are not allowed to benefit from them.
Turkish women who have the right to work, but who wear a headscarf, are often discriminated against by employers.
There has been a trend towards more integration in recent years. The Socialist and Green Parties adopted Turkish candidates for the 2005 district council elections in Vienna.
In May 2003 the European Court of Justice ruled against the province of Vorarlberg which had excluded Turks from standing for election as worker representatives to the Chamber of Labour. However, exclusion from worker representation, including company works councils, has been the norm. The 2004 Equal Treatment in Employment law and its enactment by all provincial governments by early 2006 should bring an end to this discrimination, but the law allows for exceptions.
Updated June 2015
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