The number of migrants returning to Turkey is increasing. The more negative attitude towards foreigners plays a role, but is not the main reason for leaving Holland. Four women share their motivations for taking the step.
Cabaret artist and writer Nilgün Yerli (37) has been back living in Turkey for a year
“I left Holland because I love it so much”
“I was so tired of being Turkish in Holland. I almost got depressed, mainly because over the last couple of years in Holland debate about foreigners has been raging. Everything was, and still is, about foreigners, even if the topic under discussion is health care or education, and always in a negative way. That had its effect on me. You were expected to integrate, but if you did, they would say you should not deny your roots. You can never get it right.
My last performance was in Kampen, in April 2006. At the end of the show I told the audience: Holland is so beautiful, cherish it and don’t destroy it. So I left Holland not because I don’t love the country anymore, but on the contrary, because I love it so much. I had to go and see again how beautiful Holland is. How freedom gives people the opportunity to get where they want to be. I succeeded in that too, I managed to win over one place in Holland, where I was able to display my emotions. Every evening a full hall listening to me. But over the last few years, I was seen more and more as an alien, as Turkish, as a female Muslim. I’m not even a Muslim, I’m a Buddhist. I wanted to be a woman without a nationality, but that became impossible.
At the same time, I got into a relationship, with a Turk of part British descent. From then on I traveled a lot, because he is a businessman and lived in Turkey and London. When I fell pregnant, we had to choose where to live. We chose Izmir, on the Turkish west coast, and London. Recently we have spent most of our time in Izmir.
Turkey is so different from the stories I know from my mother. I remember only a little bit about Turkey from the first years of my life. I was too young, but I see clearly that my mother’s Turkey doesn’t exist anymore. The Turkey in which people bring each other soup, help each other. Well, maybe it does still exist, but only in villages, not here in the city. Sometimes the culture confuses me. Turks can be rather dour, they take everything so seriously. My husband and I decided not to get our son circumcised, so that when he is grown up he can decide that for himself. That’s not something you can say out loud here. It’s playing with tradition and Turks can’t stand that.
Soon I will be starting a column in a Turkish newspaper. Exciting, because I will bring up themes that are sensitive in Turkey, like religion and traditions. What complicates matters is that I grew up in Holland and have been out of Turkey for many years. Turks might think: “who does she think she is?” So I will start cautiously. In the first few columns I want to explain what my roots are and that in large part they are Dutch. I will give my opinion, but I will always write with subtlety and I will not incite controversy. That balance has always been important to me.
Over the coming months I will spend more time back in the Netherlands. A new book will be published and I’m working on a new theatre tour. No doubt I will be seen as the alien again, as a Turkish woman. But I can put up with it now. When I left Holland, my resilience was finished, but now I’m all fired up again. “
Sibel Muftioglu (44) returned to Turkey 25 years ago
“It seemed exciting, adventurous, to live in Istanbul”
“Leaving Holland felt like leaving my roots behind. I was born in Istanbul, but came to Holland as a toddler and knew Turkey only from holidays. I didn’t have to go back, my parents made me choose whether to go back to Turkey with them or stay in Holland. I decided to go with them, for various reasons. I didn’t think I would make it on my own in Holland, and at the same time it seemed exciting, adventurous, to live in Istanbul.
In the beginning, it was more difficult than I expected. My background is Turkish, but I was used to Dutch society. My parents were both born and raised in Istanbul, and that’s a totally different world to the villages in central Turkey where most of the immigrants in Holland come from. In Holland, we were always more in touch with Dutch people than with Turks. I didn’t even feel Turkish, I was not brought up more strictly than Dutch girls and never felt an outsider.
In Istanbul I got to know the Turkish mentality better. Turks are less direct, they are not so punctual for their appointments, life is less ordered than in Holland. I just didn’t fit in and didn’t know what to do. I could not adjust, I got irritated and missed the Netherlands. What’s more, my Turkish was not as good as I thought it was, and with my high school diploma I could not take the entrance exams for university. If I wanted to study, I had to do secondary school all over again, and I refused to do that.
In that period, I got in touch with the Dutch consulate in Istanbul to ask if they offered some kind of help for returned emigrants. Somebody to help you find your way. They didn’t offer such a thing, but through them I got to know other repatriated Turks. That gave me just enough of a boost: if I wanted a life in Istanbul, it was up to me to take action and do it. Slowly slowly I became more active. I got involved in organizing a cultural festival, I worked as a volunteer and my network expanded. Then I was offered work, at KLM, the Dutch national airline, and with a textile company. For the textile company, I was to manage the customer contacts in Holland, and that sounded great to me. I remember landing at Amsterdam airport and hearing Dutch again. How wonderful, I thought, my own language!
The more my life got on track, the more I discovered the beautiful sides of Turkey. Turkey is more chaotic than the Netherlands, but because of that it’s also more dynamic, especially Istanbul. The country is developing rapidly, and more and more I felt part of that. The eagerness to have your own company is big here, it’s everybody’s dream to be his own boss instead of working for one. Now I have my own company too: for the last ten years I have owned a textile business. I visit Holland regularly on business and I’m sure I will keep going there for the rest of my life. But I will never live in Holland again. Now I belong here.”
Ayla Aydoğmuş (35) returned to Turkey 18 months ago.
“He thought going back to Turkey would be a solution”
“I resisted leaving Holland for a long time. Holland was my home, I grew up there since I was six. I had a job, friends, family, a beautiful house, everything. In Turkey, I had nothing. But for my husband, it was the other way around. He came to Holland when we got married and left behind his life in Turkey. He missed his family, his friends, his work, Turkish life. He wanted to go back, I didn’t.
The longer my husband lived in Holland, the unhappier he got. He learned the language, but that was not enough to find a suitable job. In Turkey he had his own business, he was used to arranging his own life, and in Holland he ended up in a factory. And he would probably never get further ahead than that, because he has no Dutch diplomas and he never became fluent in Dutch, even though he tried so hard.
He was totally dependant on me and that was no good for our marriage. I took care of our finances, I did the housekeeping and organized everything for the children, like day care and contacts with school. And if something needed to be fixed in the house, I arranged for someone to do the job. I felt like father and mother, husband and wife, I carried our whole life. That was hard for me, but also for him.
He thought going back to Turkey would be a solution, but he knew that was not his decision to make. He didn’t want to rob me of my job and bring me to the same position in Turkey as he faced in Holland. But he kept bringing the subject up, and we fought about it more and more. That was very emotional. When I went to work the day after such a fight, my eyes were still thick from crying. Something had to happen.
I decided to seriously consider moving to Turkey. I was happy with my work, friends and colleagues, it was good to have my family close by, but what was the value of that if things were so difficult at home? Sometimes I thought “I don’t even feel like his wife”. I mean, in a relationship you have to be equal so you can lean on each other, and that was totally not the case. I thought: let’s see if I can find a job in Ankara, where we already had a summer apartment. If I could find a job, then maybe moving could be an option.
My resistance against going back softened, and then I realized more clearly that other aspects of my life were also deteriorating. For example, my job as secretary at an art academy. For medical reasons, I didn’t work for some time and when I returned, other people had partly taken over my job. That bothered me. Because of the situation my husband was in and because of the negative atmosphere concerning foreigners in Holland over the last few years, I also felt more and more like a foreigner, and I never felt like that before.
Every other month I called the embassy in Ankara to ask if they had a job for me. They didn’t, but eventually the human resources department wanted to see me. If a vacancy came up, they would consider me for it. Rather vague of course, but still, it gave me some confidence that it would be possible to find a job. It was the beginning of 2006 and actually a good moment to make the decision. The children were three and six years old, ages at which they would probably easily adapt to Turkish life and the language. If we got things started now, we could move in the summer and the children could start their new school year in Ankara.
Apparently it was a good decision, because everything went so smoothly after that: our house was sold in no time, all of the home furnishings were sold as one lot through the internet. But of course it was also difficult. When I think back to the goodbye dinner my colleagues organized for me… Really, I could only cry. But I didn’t doubt the step I was taking, I had confidence.
In August we left, in October I found a job. Not at the embassy, but in the Dutch Institute for Higher Education, which was about to be opened at the time, and which had inquired at the embassy if they knew anybody that would want to work for them. I was hired as management assistant. After the job interview, I already knew I would get the job and I took my husband out to dinner. Things turned out perfectly. He had his own business again, and I had a full time job that suited me perfectly. The children adapted easily, and between my husband and me everything changed. We share the housework. He can be a better father to the children, a better husband to me. The balance is back, in every way.”
Asuman Aray (56) has been living in Turkey again for 7 years.
“There I was, in my own house in Rotterdam. I felt so lonely”
“Looking back, I was never happy in Holland. In Turkey I worked as a stewardess, I had a good education, but in Holland I was at home with the children. It was never my choice to go to Holland. I followed my husband, who fled to the Netherlands in 1980, after the military coup. I learned some Dutch, but a job on my own level, like I had in Turkey, I would never find in Holland. Our marriage was also in a bad way, we had many quarrels. When I went to Turkey on a family visit, I sometimes considered staying there. But, of course, I could not leave my children just like that. About eight years ago, the marriage was really finished. I don’t want to tell all the details, but I found another house and moved. That was very special for me. I mean, in Turkey that would not have been an option. What would I have lived on? In Holland, I lived on state welfare, and many women helped me out in many ways. That gave me strength.
But, well, there I was, in my own house in Rotterdam with two teenagers and a social welfare income. I felt so lonely. I had no job and I saw no way of improving my situation. I had no working experience or diplomas and my Dutch was not fluent, so I could never be financially independent. In Turkey it would be easier to really stand on my own two feet, and I desperately wanted that after I found the courage to leave my husband. Not that there are many jobs in Turkey, but at least it would be my own country with my own language. I used to have a good job there and I still had contacts. And I speak English, and that is still a valuable asset in Turkey.
The only thing I worried about was the children. Could I take them away from Holland and let them go through this change as teenagers? The youngest had just started secondary school, the oldest almost graduated from high school. Wouldn’t they have better opportunities in Holland? I talked to them about it, especially with the older one. He understood why it was so important for me to go back. If I wanted to make something for myself, this was the time, and the children could still easily come with me because they were minors. I gave them the choice to stay in Holland with their father, but they didn’t want that.
I succeeded in making a new start in Ankara. Because I was living on social welfare in Holland, I could take advantage of a law that provided me with some money on which I could subsist in the first few months in Turkey. After that, I found work as an English translator and I am now an English teacher. In Delft, where I lived for years, I had flamenco lessons, and here in Ankara I’m a flamenco teacher. My children, in their twenties now, live with me. My daughter is studying, my son just finished university and is looking for a job. They did well finding their way here.
When I think back about Holland… It was an unhappy period in my life, but I also have good memories. I got to know different cultures, and that enriched me. And my first step to independence, the divorce, I could not have taken except in Holland.”
Since 1 April 2000 people who want to return to their home country (or who want to migrate to the country from which at least one of their parents came) can make use of the Remigration Law. This law arranges two different sorts of remuneration: a once-only ‘basic provision’ and a long-term ‘remigration provision’. The remigration provision is meant for people on social welfare of 45 years and older and provides a monthly payment at a level that is sufficient to live in the particular country. Applicants have to give up their Dutch citizenship.
The basic provision is an allowance for travel and moving costs, and living expenses for the first two months after (re)migrating. The amount of money depends on the country you migrate to, the number of migrants in the family and their ages. For Turkey there is an allowance of € 275 for travel expenses per adult, and € 1140 moving costs for one adult and his or her partner. For children, lower amounts are paid out.
Exact figures for the number of second generation migrants repatriating to Turkey are not available. The statistics only count the migrants who leave Holland officially, which is not always the case. Besides that, the statistics count all people who move to Turkey, including people without a Turkish background.
The number of migrants to Turkey is growing. In 2006, 2189 people left for Turkey, in 2002 it was less then 900. Since the mid nineties, every year more than 2000 people have left for Turkey, but there is a change between then and now: nowadays, the share of emigrants born in Holland is bigger, namely forty percent against thirty percent back then. The migrants to Turkey who were born in Holland are likely to be second generation Turks, even though part of the group are Dutch people with no Turkish blood.
There is no research on why the number of people moving to Turkey is increasing, but one explanation could be the growing Turkish economy. The more negative atmosphere regarding foreigners in Holland is usually not a main reason to leave there. It plays a role, but leaving Holland is only possible when you have an alternative. Turkey offers that alternative more and more. By the way, this doesn’t mean it’s easy to find a job in Turkey. Finding a job still depends very much on the network you have, and such a network is all too often what migrants who grew up in the Netherlands lack. How many people regret their migration to Turkey and return to Holland is not known.
Published in womens magazine Esta
Pictures by Hanneke Geerdink