West Europe's guest workers. Living conditions have improved, but discrimination persists
Geneva — A young Turk here was talking about the children of Turkish workers in Switzerland: ``Their minds are changed,'' he said. ``They are European. They don't want to go back to Turkey.''
There are more than 4.5 million children of migrant workers living in West European countries today. These second-generation migrants frequently have no real ties with their parents' country of origin. Their home life remains closely attached to their parents' traditional values, but their school life may be Swiss -- or German, or French, or whatever.
``The children get all mixed up,'' said the Turk.
The northern industrial nations of Western Europe called in an army of millions of migrants from Turkey, Yugoslavia, Italy, Algeria, Spain, and Portugal during the labor-starved boom years of the 1960s.
Often less educated as well as from foreign cultures, the migrants sometimes faced hard lives. They usually did the dirty, poor-paying or monotonous jobs -- kitchen work, garbage collecting, construction work, boring assembly-line jobs. Many lived in barracks in West Germany or ``Bidonvilles'' (shantytowns) in France. They suffered discrimination and neglect. But they were better off financially than they had been in their native lands.
Today, says W. R. B"ohning, in charge of programs dealing with migration and immigration at the International Labor Organization here, ``the migrant workers are much better off than they were.''
For one thing, most are now living in their own housing. Some of that may be in decaying inner cities or special public housing, but it is an improvement over the barracks and shantytowns. The last French Bidonville in Nanterre was bulldozed last year.
``Now they live in relatively decent accommodation,'' Mr. B"ohning said.
But, he went on, new problems have risen. Sometimes the migrants are isolated in ghettos, lacking communication with local citizens.
Migrant children, though more at home with the local language, still face discimination because of the inferior jobs and social status of their parents. Only a small number, notes the ILO, are able to meet the requirements to participate in vocational training and apprenticeship programs. Thus many find themselves pushed toward the same sort of unskilled and dead-end jobs as their parents.
Moreover, because of the high level of unemployment in Western Europe, migrants sometimes face increasing antagonism. ``There is rising hostility -- call it racism, if you like -- against them,'' B"ohning said. ``Fundamentally, it is envy in terms of competition for jobs.''
Britain was shocked by riots in Liverpool. In France, there were antimigrant demonstrations in the suburbs of Lyon in 1981. Marseilles saw a series of random killings of Algerians in 1983. The extreme right party of Jean-Marie Le Pen has won more votes by denouncing ``immigration and resulting insecurity in our cities.''
B"ohning criticizes Mr. Le Pen for an attitude he describes as: ``You are a foreigner. Get out!'' B"ohning comments: ``There is no humanitarian dimension involved.''
French governments, however, have been more generous in their treatment of 4.3 million migrant workers. An agreement put together by the government, companies, and unions in mid-1984 offers cash grants for foreign workers in the automobile industry who will leave. These have averaged $10,000. But not many have taken it, perhaps to the relief of the Finance Ministry, which is trying to reduce large deficits.
The current Socialist government, though trying more strenuously to block further immigration with penalties on employers hiring illegal migrants and more thorough border checks, has encouraged resident foreigners to integrate into French society.
The German and Belgian governments have also offered financial incentives to foreign workers and their families to leave. Some 300,000 foreign residents in Germany have accepted repatriation terms offered by the Bonn government of about $3,400 and rebates on their social security contributions. The Swiss and the Swedish governments do nothing in this regard, says B"ohning.
There are some 6.2 million migrant workers in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. They are accompanied by at least the same number of family members.
The influx of foreign workers was reduced to a trickle after 1973 and many workers left to go home (with or without government assistance), but the number of migrant workers at the start of the 1980s was about the same as at the start of the '70s. Many children had joined their fathers and mothers in the labor market.
Economic rights of the migrants vary from country to country. A migrant worker is put on a par with a national worker in regard to access to jobs after regular employment of one year in Sweden, three years in Belgium and the Netherlands, four years in France and the United Kingdom, five years in West Germany, eight years in Austria, and five to 10 years in Switzerland (depending on the migrant's nationality). Barring grave misconduct, such migrants can stay indefinitely. Obtaining citizenship is usually more difficult, even for children born in the nation. Most migrants have no political rights.
B"ohning says West Europeans at first thought of foreign workers as a commodity called ``labor.'' In more recent years, they realized there are humanitarian questions involved. So family reunification is normally allowed, though the West European definition of family may be narrower than that of, say, North Africans.
In the last few years, illegal migrants have become more of a problem in Europe, B"ohning notes.
He guesses there are 20,000 illegal Portuguese, 2,000 Africans, and more than 1,000 Asians in Geneva alone doing ``dirty jobs.'' They do not get social security benefits or medical coverage. The town can't throw them out because it needs their labor, he says.
Another new phenomenon is that some of the Mediterranean nations that were leading sources of migrant workers -- Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal, now have their own problem with foreign workers, most of whom are illegal. They come from further south -- Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
An ILO researcher estimates there are some 40,000 irregular migrants in Greece, 300,000 in Spain, and 600,000 in Italy. Because all these nations rely heavily on tourism, they would find it difficult to institute tight border controls. Both Spain and Italy have tens of millions of visitors crossing their borders each year.
``It is the old story all over again,'' notes the ILO. ``The foreigners are doing the low-paid, low-status, often dirty and dangerous jobs the nationals no longer want, despite the existing record-level unemployment.'' Table: International migration for employment. Source: ILO Host country: Austria Belgium France West Germany Luxembourg Home country: Algeria 3.2 322.7 1.6 Finland 3.7 France 38.5 54.0 8.5 Greece 10.8 3.0 138.4 Italy 90.5 146.4 324.3 11.2 Morocco 37.3 116.1 16.6 Portugal 6.3 430.6 59.9 13.7 Spain 32.0 157.7 89.3 2.3 Tunisia 4.7 65.3 Turkey 28.2 23.0 20.6 623.9 Yugoslavia 115.2 3.1 32.2 367.0 0.6 Other 31.3 83.2 192.4 490.1 15.6 Total 174.7 332.6 1,487.0 2,168.8 51.9 Host country: Netherlands Sweden Switzerland United Kingdom Total Algeria 327.5 Finland 108.0 1.0 112.7 France 2.0 14.0 117.2 Greece 1.2 7.5 6.0 166.9 Italy 12.0 301.0 73.0 958.4 Morocco 33.7 203.7 Portugal 4.2 5.0 519.7 Spain 10.4 85.7 17.0 394.4 Tunisia 1.1 71.1 Turkey 53.2 20.1 4.0 773.0 Yugoslavia 6.6 24.0 62.5 5.0 616.2
Other 70.2 94.6 237.0 804.0 2,018.4 Total 194.6 234.1 706.3 929.0 6,279.0