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Political Transnational Activities

Transnationalism raises questions regarding the territoriality of citizenship and political participation (Collyer 2014)[1]. From a transnational perspective, political opportunities for participation are potentially shaped by both the receiving country and the sending country. Opportunities in the host country include aspects of legal status such as national asylum regimes, citizenship, voting, and access to legal representation, but also the migrant organizational landscape (Vertovec 2003, 654).

The political opportunity structure in the country of origin refers to rights that enable the political participation of settled migrants, emigrants, and circular and return migrants, such as dual citizenship, external voting rights, and encouraging or discouraging the creation of political organizations (Mügge 2010, 30). Scholars have argued that strong transnational orientations are responses to exclusionary citizenship regimes in host states that limit migrants' access to the political community (Koopmans et al. 2005, 143). But sending states through the extension or denial of citizenship rights can include or exclude their (former) citizens from political participation as well (Freeman and Ögelman 1998). Depending on the citizenship regimes of both sending and receiving states, migrants may come to hold “dual” citizenship (Faist and Kivisto 2007).

Some studies of the political dimension of transnationalism find that transnational political participation goes hand in hand with political participation—and thus political integration—in the host country. Morawska (2003, 161–165), for example, argues that incorporation in local politics in the receiving society and political involvement in the country of origin are often successfully combined. There are numerous examples of diaspora groups that in response to homeland political developments have attempted to influence foreign policy in the country of settlement or a supranational level (see among others Weil 1974; Garett 1978; Arthur 1991; Jusdanis 1991; Shain 1999; Berkowitz and Mügge 2014). Not all agree that this is a good thing. Huntington (1997), for instance, argues that US foreign policy has become unduly dominated by migrants' interests. More positively, Mathias (1981) argues that such interests would otherwise be overlooked. Either way, migrant groups' ability to work the political system to the point of being able to influence foreign policy is itself a type of political integration. Certain types of transnational political activity thus seem to facilitate political integration.

European scholarship on transnational political activities and ties is particularly well developed on migrants from Turkey, most notably on the Kurds in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK (Wahlbeck 1999; Østergaard-Nielsen 2001; Van den Bos and Nell 2006; Eliassi 2013; Baser 2014; Alinea et al. 2014). The Kurds are spread over several European immigration countries. Due in part to the large number of political refugees among them, many Kurds have remained politically active around the situation in their homeland (Gunter 2008; Baser 2011). In the 1990s, when the Kurdish conflict in Turkey peaked and the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan was arrested, Kurds across Europe protested against the Turkish state. Mass mobilization of Kurds and their “transplanted homeland politics” became a concern of European states. Koopmans et al. (2005) argue that such violent forms of transnationalism are detrimental to migrants' integration. However, the scope of such activities should not be overestimated. They are an exception rather than the rule (Mügge 2012b; on Sweden see, e.g., Khayati and Dahlstedt 2014). Beyond protesting at Turkish companies, embassies, and consulates, Kurdish organizations tried to influence Dutch foreign policy towards Turkey. To this end, many activities were organized, including hunger strikes, which imply profound knowledge of Dutch protest instruments. As such, these activists can be viewed as politically integrated into the Dutch system. Moreover, Kurds are extremely well organized at the European level. Dense networks have been established between organizations across Europe to facilitate joint homeland-directed politics. These networks are increasingly used as a platform for discussing common issues facing Kurds in Europe.

  • [1] This subsection draws on Mügge (2010, 28–30), though the text has been reorganized for the purpose of this contribution.
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