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Lesson 6.6: Mediterranean Guests in The Netherlands and the Birth of Multicultural Europe


Lesson 6.6: Mediterranean Guests in The Netherlands and the Birth of Multicultural Europe


Topic 4: Patterns of Population & Expressing Identity—Migration


Topic Overview

After a period of rebuilding war-torn Europe after the Second World War, sustained economic growth in the 1950’s and 1960’s forced Western European governments to confront severe labor shortages. Young men from countries bordering the Mediterranean were invited and recruited to come to France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and do jobs that native workers of those countries didn’t want to do. They came from Portugal, Spain, Italy and Yugoslavia, and later from Turkey and Morocco. Initially, governments in Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands set up so-called “Guest Worker” programs, establishing short-term contracts for migrants to come and work, while expecting them to return to their home country after a few years. Continuing demand for their labor, however, opened the door  to chain migration, bringing family members, friends, and neighbors from their countries of origin to join them. In some cases, almost the entire male population of small villages took up jobs in northern Europe.

In time, these communities took root in their new countries of residence, building homes and businesses in the receiving countries while maintaining ties to their countries of origin—a diasporic extension of the Mediterranean into northern Europe. These migrations had major consequences for economic development in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean basin and enhanced communication and cultural exchange between both regions. With the economic downturn of the 1970’s and 1980’s,  unemployment rose in Northern Europe, and migrant communities became targets of xenophobia and racism. Immigration policies became more restrictive. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, as well as attacks in Madrid and London, increased focus on the “Muslim” character of migrants in northwestern Europe gave rise to emerging anti-immigrant populist movements. Calls for closure of immigration opportunities, and demands that immigrant communities assimilate into majority cultures rose. Regardless of notions that integration hadn’t happened, children of the migrants have  become fluent in the politics of their adopted countries, and European urban life has in fact assimilated features of Mediterranean culture, including foods, music, and architecture.

Following the end of authoritarian rule in Portugal, Spain and Greece, the European Community  expanded significantly. Treaties designed to aid economic development in the EU’s southern states. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union led to further expansion of the European Union, revision of its inter-governmental treaties, and a more open common marketplace and extending common freedoms and rights for all citizens across its rapidly expanding space. In 2004, ten former Soviet bloc countries joined the EU, creating the world’s largest economic market. The “Schengen Zone” established a regional policy of open borders for goods, labour, and people inside the Union, with a common monetary policy and the Euro as a common currency.

With the global economic downturn after 2008, flows of migrants and refugees from all over the world have increased even as  the political and regulatory regime resisting the movement of peoples within and across European space has rapidly evolved. Open borders have also created a very large common frontier with the rest of the world. A large segment of this border runs through the Mediterranean, with implications for populations on the southern Mediterranean shores. Migration routes extending into distant regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia have converged on this frontier. Tightened immigration rules on this EU frontier face growing trafficking of people by smugglers. Another facet of “Fortress Europe” are high import tarriffs that protect the EU economies from the cheaper produce of its Mediterranean neighbours, even while the common market of the EU supports the economic sector of member states.

The lessons around this topic explore social and cultural cross-fertilization in everyday life in the wider Mediterranean region, against the background of  political, social, economic, and legal responses that seek to limit these exchanges. The contrast between an emerging  multicultural Europe and a “fortress Europe” is changing perceptions of the meaning of boundaries and cultural identities.

Topic Essential Questions

  • How did “guest worker” policies impact the relationship between the Mediterranean and Northwestern Europe?
  • How did progressively closer economic and political integration raise barriers to people flows from Europe’s Mediterranean neighbours and refugees from farther away?
  • Why did the movement of Mediterranean populations into western Europe increase after World War Two?
  • How have European far-right political movements used the issue of immigration?
  • What does “multiculturalism” mean in Europe, in light of its absorption of generations of immigrants from previously held colonies and surrounding countries on its eastern and southern rim?
  • How do European debates on immigration from the Mediterranean compare with U.S. debates on immigration from Latin America and other places around the globe?

Lesson Overview

An emerging view on labour migration in the 1950s and 1960s from the Mediterranean basin to North-Western Europe is that it was economically necessary, but the guest workers “overstayed” European hospitality, and brought too many of their relatives up North and that they failed to integrate well. This view is usually justified by pointing to lower education levels in immigrant youth, higher crime rates, and even terrorism, especially by Muslim immigrants. In this view, culture and religion are often seen as main criteria for lack of integration. The lesson shows through case studies of “guest workers” from Italy, Yugoslavia, Spain, Morocco and Turkey to the Netherlands, that the history of labour migration is part of a broader story. Issues of denial about identity as a country of immigration by the importing nations, and ambivalence about adaptation to the majority culture has meant a fraught definition of “multiculturalism” in the European context. Students explore this complex history so as to better understand contemporary socio-political issues, including youth radicalisation on one side, and anti-immigrant extremism on the other. The lesson explores the multi-faceted effects of migration from the Mediterranean, and its influence on European culture.

Essential Questions

• Why did young Spanish, Italian, Yugoslav, Moroccan, and Turkish people leave their homes to go to The Netherlands?

• What were their experiences in The Netherlands and how did the Dutch population perceived them?

• How did the migrants change The Netherlands and how did The Netherlands change them and their home countries?

• When and Why did the integration of the children and families of these migrants become to be seen as a problem?

• Who else was moving between the Mediterranean and Northern Europe?


Jonathan Even-Zohar and Craig Perrier


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University




2014, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


2-3 class periods


• Students will be able to define Labor Migration, “Guest Worker” Programs, and Chain Migration.

• They will be able to list push and pull factors and explain why different people in different time periods and places have held differing views on the merits of immigration

• They will analyse the demographic causes of labor migration

• They will describe some effects of labor migration, “guest workers” and chain migration in terms of cultural, social, and economic impacts on the sending and receiving societies.

• They will interpret multiple perspectives on the (cultural) identification of a migrant family over two or three generations from primary source accounts.

• They will compare and contrast the case of the guest-worker with other forms of migration in business, education, government, etc. occurring in the same societies at the same time.


• Student Handout 6.6.1 Labour Migration

• Student Handout 6.6.2 Bilateral Agreements

• Student Handout 6.6.3 Dutch Reception of Guest Laborers

• Student Handout 6.6.4 Almanya clips

• Student Handout 6.6.5 Integration Issues

Lesson Plan Text

1. Background Reading: Refresh students’ knowledge of the need for post-war reconstruction in Europe after WWII, and the reasons for the labor shortage that led to guest worker programs, and how this lead to new sustained industrial growth in Western Europe. (See opening photos, Student Handout 6.6.1A) This leads into Student Handout 6.6.1, Activity A: “A Match made in Heaven? Labour Migration in Europe, 1950 to 1973.” Divide the class in two groups work with the same source material to analyse, group, and rank Push (1) & Pull (2) Factors in the motivation of workers to move from various sending countries to—in this case study—the Netherlands. The first group of documents are translated snippets of video Interviews with Spanish, Italians, Yugoslav, Moroccan, Greek and Turkish migrants from the oral history project “50 years of Guestworkers in Utrecht” at and “5 Centuries of Migration” at Have students identify as many push factors for the migrants to leave their home countries as they can in the interviews.

2. The second set of documents on Student Handout 6.6.2 are bilateral agreements between The Netherlands and Spain (1960), Italy (1961), Turkey (1964), Morocco (1969), Yugoslavia (1970) to establish the rules for immigration of “guest workers.” Have students think about what the term “guest worker” implies, especially under the modern regime of passports, tourist, work, and residence visas that did not obtain a century earlier. Have students contrast the earlier flows of travelers, merchants, and migrants of various kinds before nation-state boundaries and institutionalized paperwork became fixed features of the global landscape. The third set of (translated) text and video on Student Handout 6.6.3 are narratives on how a Dutch industrial company recruited labour workers from Turkey and A set of questions at the beginning of the narratives alerts students to the complex issues surrounding labor migration in the Netherlands over time, from the perspective of the workers and their families, legal policy, the economy, and the receiving society. An official film introducing the “train shower” shows how industrial technology still guest workers to do manual labor that technology couldn’t solve (at

3. The fourth set of documents on Student Handout 6.6.4 consists of scenes from movies about Turkish Migrants who came to Germany (Almanya) Discuss the issues raised in the film, whose filmmakers are German. Discuss where does the film lie on the boundary between realism and comedy. How would German and Turkish films differ in their approach?

4. Assessments: Webquest: Find more information about the origin of one of the migrants from the interviews and present the process of deciding to emigrate as young person. Ask students to imagine themselves migrating. Compare the situation of the Mediterranean people migrating to Northern Europe vs. labour/economic migrants in their societies? Activity B – Distribute Student Handout 6.6.5 on integration of the first generation of labor migrants. Contrast the concept of integration in the statement, “I am Dutch, I am a proud Moroccan. I am a Muslim” vs. statements like, “Multiculturalism is Dead.” The activity has two strands - the positive and the negative side on the issue of integration. The negative side can be explored through a range of preselected debate clippings as well as political statements.

a. Starter-activity 1: As a class, watch the young Dutch-Moroccan award winner at . The actor won the award for a road movie about Moroccan youth (heavily demonized in the media as street-terrorists), (trailer with subtitles: and ask students to describe and discuss: What is his message?

b. Starter-activity 2: View these statements by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Merkel about Multiculturalism.

c. Background Reading: The economic downturn of the 1970s and 1980s and How did immigration continue even after the end of “guestworker”-programmes.

d. A Political Game: How to Live Together in Europe? A variety of web resources allow students to view these debates and identify immigration issues they have discussed in the readings so far, as well as new issues that have arisen recently:

• Al Jazeera 24m documentary - including statements on the Dutch case -

• Can Islam flourish in Europe? Easy-to-follow short clip of American news on the case of Cologne in Germany;

• 1997 – Dutch debate “Islamisation” – (subtitled)

• Defense Statement of Geert Wilders after him being charged of incitement to violence - (subtitled)

• Wilders confronted by TV show host on Ethnic Registration (subtitled)

• View from Arab TV; Mosques in Europe (in Arabic)

5. Extension: Research other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries where labor immigration has taken place in the past or is still happening in the present (Libya, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf. Compare and contrast issues of immigration law, integration, religion, and culture in western Europe and in lands around the Mediterranean. What are the costs and benefits of labor migration programs for receiving and sending societies and the people themselves?

6. A Social Reality: Living Together: Mediterranean cuisine can be found throughout The Netherlands - and is widely popular in cooking shows, restaurant menus and widely available in supermarkets. How these foods became so widely known is a story of immigration, entrepreneurship and tourism from North to South! In this activity, we investigate:
• How Italian Migrants established Pizzeria’s in Dutch towns
• How Dutch tourists enjoyed Pizza’s on their first (mass) holidays)
• How Turkish Migrants established the first Doner shops in Germany
• Migration from South to North Europe can be found in many of Europe’s football (soccer) teams.
Students can investigate the life-stories of:
• Mesut Ozil - Interviews why he chose to play for German team and not Turkish National Team
• Ibrahim Affelay - interview why he chose to play for Dutch team and not Moroccan team

7. Extension: Read additional sources on immigration to Denmark in Recent Times: The Goethe Institute’s website on Migration and Integration shows the current trends – can students trace the historical issues in the German example compared to the Dutch one? Finally, discuss why the lands bordering the Mediterranean have been major sources of labor migration to western Europe, and what it says about the concept of a region divided along north/south and east/west axes.



Jonathan Even-Zohar and Craig Perrier, “Lesson 6.6: Mediterranean Guests in The Netherlands and the Birth of Multicultural Europe,” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed October 27, 2020,