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Translocal Activities of Local Governments and Migrant Organizations

Edith van Ewijk and Gery Nijenhuis


Linkages between migrant source and destination countries can take many forms, ranging from informal remittances sent by individual migrants to relatives “back home” to diaspora engagement policies of sending countries. These relationships are often locally specific (Nell 2007). After all, migrants send remittances not to some random village, but to their villages of origin. Some authors refer to linkages at the local level as “translocal”:

[W]hile people are indeed more and more connected to others in different localities, including distant ones, the essence of this integration lies in linking 'the local' to 'the local' elsewhere and only partly in integration at the level of nation states (Zoomers and Van Westen 2011, 377).

This chapter examines the translocal relationships that link local governments and migrant organizations in a country of origin with those in a country of destination. We define translocal linkages as local-to-local connections across national boundaries created through local governments (villages, cities, or regions) and migrant organizations. As such, we take a meso-level perspective. At the meso level, actors play a specific role. They are often involved in more or less institutionalized linkages through which individual migrants and other actors pool resources, share experiences, exchange knowledge, and engage with one another. These linkages are usually rather structural and stable, and relatively flexible, and they are able to respond to local needs (Robertson 1994; Pries 2001; Nell 2007; Penninx 2005; Bockhove 2012).

The bulk of the literature on transnational practices focuses on either the macro level, such as the policies of sending countries (see Østergaard-Nielsen in this volume; Østergaard-Nielsen 2011), or the micro level, for example, the remittance behaviour of individual migrants and the impact of remittances on countries of origin (see Mügge in this volume). So far, few researchers have looked specifically at the meso level. Those who have done so have mainly focused on the linkages of US-based migrant organizations (e.g., Mexican hometown associations) with Latin America (Fauser 2007; Østergaard-Nielsen 2011).

This chapter reviews the literature on the linkages of, respectively, local governments and migrant organizations between countries of origin and countries of destination. Three questions are central: (i) What are the main characteristics of these relationships and what kinds of activities can be observed? (ii) What drives local governments and migrant organizations to implement these activities? (iii) How can we assess these activities?

In addressing these questions, this chapter touches upon two overarching debates that are central in this publication. The first is the increasing prominence of the migration and development framework (see King and Collyer in this volume). Related to this, several European countries have established co-development programmes aimed at linking immigrants and their organizations to development processes in the region of origin, often with the aim of stimulating integration processes in destination countries as well. The second debate is related to this and centres on whether translocal linkages between migrant source and destination countries and integration in destination countries reinforce each other or are a zero-sum proposition (see also Mügge in this volume).

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