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Young Turks and Kurds

Press release issued: 16 February 2005

Schools, career agencies and local government are being urged to find ways of overcoming their 'blindness' towards particular problems of young Turkish people and Kurds.

Schools, career agencies and local government are being urged to find ways of overcoming their 'blindness' towards particular problems of young Turkish people and Kurds, who run especially high risks of school exclusion and of failure to obtain qualifications

A new study by researchers at Bristol University of young Turkish-speaking people in North London for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that they are economically worse off than many ethnic groups in the capital and that their educational experiences are especially poor.

A survey of 250 young people aged 16 to 23, combined with 30 in-depth interviews, found that levels of truancy and serious discipline problems were high, including almost a quarter of young Kurds who said they had been excluded from school. Four out of ten Turks and six out of ten Kurds said they had no formal qualifications.

Many of the young people who were unqualified had attended what they described as 'sink' schools. They reported high levels of tension and harassment between different ethnic groups at school that had sometimes ended in fighting. There were language problems, especially among Kurds, and a view that they had been left to fend for themselves by teachers and schools who were not interested in their special problems.

The researchers observe that Turks and Kurds do not occupy a clear position in the distinction between white and non-white on which much understanding and policy in relation to 'ethnic minorities' is based. The Turkish-speaking community is itself fragmented between three main groups: Cypriot Turks (the longest-established Turkish community in London), mainland Turks and Kurdish refugees.

The study also found that:

  • A third of the young people interviewed reported discrimination and harassment to do with their race, colour, religious or cultural identity. This related mainly to white people, but also to other ethnic groups, including other Turkish-speaking groups. Young Kurds had also encountered discrimination because of their refugee status.
  • The young people tended not to identify with the 'Muslim community', although some saw religion as an important aspect of their ethnic identity. Interviewees were also often ambivalent about what it means to be 'British' and reluctant to adopt that identity. Most young Kurds refused to be identified as 'Turks'.
  • There was no noticeable divide between people who had qualifications and others who tended to have 'A' levels or their equivalent. While 40 per cent of Turkish interviewees were unqualified, over half had qualifications above GCSE. Likewise, 60 per cent of young Kurds were unqualified, but 37 per cent had qualifications at A-level or above.
  • Many of the young people relied on their community networks to find work. Sandwich bars and kebab shops, together with a wide range of family businesses appeared to provide a 'micro-economy' in parallel to the mainstream labour market.
  • In spite of the problems raised, most interviewees were not pessimistic about their future. The majority did not appear to have considered finding a job outside London, but many said they would be willing to move to another western country."

Pinar Enneli, co-author of the report, said: "From this exploratory research, it is already clear that Turkish-speaking young people struggle to find their way through structural disadvantages, exclusion and neglect. For many young Turks and Kurds, their families and communities seem to be a source of economic security and may feed their optimism. But there is an urgent need to prevent these family cushions becoming traps.

Harriet Bradley, Professor of Sociology at Bristol and co-author of the report, added: "We recommend that schools, colleges, careers agencies and local government departments should overcome their apparent blindness towards the Turkish-speaking communities and learn to perceive their needs. We would urge them to employ specialist staff who can work with young people from these communities to help them steer their way through the educational and other disadvantages that the research has identified. We see a special role here or the Connexions youth advisory service in co-ordinating better support."

Young Turks and Kurds: A set of ‘invisible’ disadvantaged groups by Pinar Enneli, Tariq Modood and Harriet Bradley is published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and available from York Publishing Services, 64 Hallfield Road, Layerthorpe, York YO31 7ZQ, price £14.95 plus £2 p&p.

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