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Characterizing the Transnational Activities of Migrant Organizations

Most migrant organizations have some form of contact with the country of origin. The intensity of this contact varies from rather incidental to structural. As such, not all migrant organizations can be considered “transnational” or “translocal”. The core business of the great majority is focused on the country of destination, to facilitate the integration of migrants in the host society. The relationship of migrant organizations with the country of origin can take many forms, and several categories of activities can be distinguished. For instance, organizations can play the role of broker or political activist, or be a charity or a professional development organization. These roles are not mutually exclusive.

Many migrant organizations perform the role of a broker between the migrant and the country of origin in the practical organization of essential lifecycle events, such as marriage, child birth, and funerals. Examples are migrant organizations that assist in repatriation of the deceased. Migrants often prefer to be buried in the country of origin, which is a costly and complex practice for families, as it requires extensive paperwork and knowledge of the system (Mazzucato and Kabki 2009). Lacroix (2010a) describes how in France the organizations of Algerian Kabyle fulfilled this role to build a bridge between the host society and the region of origin. Another example of an intermediary role played by migrant organizations is in payments of migrants' community taxes in the country of origin to compensate for not performing communal duties. Migrant organizations collect this money and forward it to the community in the region of origin.

Migrant organizations may embark on political activism, as a strategy to change political structures in the country of origin. This may range from advocacy work to electoral participation and features strong affiliation with particular political parties and a questioning of governance systems. Several political parties in origin countries have established branch organizations in countries of destination to reach out to the diasporas. Associations of migrants of Moroccan decent offer an example of strong political involvement, and several of these organizations have argued for political reform and democratization (Bakewell 2009). Related to political involvement is the claim for an improved rights position and the quest for improved conditions of return migration.

Migrant organizations may also be involved in charities, targeting their villages or region of origin. For some, the charity is their main activity and raising resources to support a specific project is their core business. They do so by organizing information meetings within their community, holding fairs to raise money, and approaching companies in their networks. These resources can be in-cash or in-kind. An example of the latter is computer equipment sent to schools in Surinam, or shipping the complete contents of a hospital to Ghana. Charities are often relatively shortterm, small-scale activities with a limited scope and are comparatively simple to implement. They aim to provide direct relief, for example, after an emergency and to satisfy certain needs. This kind of activity is very common among migrant organizations and has been a central practice from the time the first migrants set foot in Europe. Lacroix (2005) recalls, in this respect, the construction of a mosque in Morocco in the 1960s by migrants based in France.

A final category of activities can be classified as more professionally developed international development cooperation. These activities aim explicitly to stimulate development beyond the individual level in the country or village of origin. This category differs from the previous one in terms of the professionalization, budget, scale, and scope of activities. They are often implemented in the form of programmes and projects to stimulate development with a structural character. Resources to finance these activities may stem from state agencies and NGOs working in development cooperation. Sankofa is one such organization. It is based in the Netherlands and implements activities such as a family poultry project in Ghana.

The transnational activities of migrant organizations require the involvement of third parties. The local counterpart in the region of origin facilitates implementation of activities, keeps an eye on progress, and negotiates with stakeholders. The great majority of migrant organizations collaborate with a partner in the country or locality of origin, sometimes through a local NGO, sometimes through relatives, and sometimes through a counterpart organization established by the migrant organization especially for this purpose (Nijenhuis and Zoomers 2015; Godin et al. 2012; Lacroix and Dumont 2012). Besides these direct partners in the country of origin, migrant organizations collaborate with local and national governments there. Such collaboration is often mandatory to obtain permits for constructing schools and health posts, and is often considered “a necessary evil”. However, positive collaborations with local governments are also mentioned, such as the partnership between Stichting Twiza Fonds (in the Netherlands) and the Moroccan municipality of Dar El Kebdani (Nijenhuis and Zoomers 2015) and, as mentioned earlier, various initiatives being implemented under the umbrella of municipal partnerships.

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