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Motives and Frames of Translocal Activities of Migrant Organizations

Although studies of the transnational activities of migrant organizations are advancing, few address the question of why migrant organizations, as collectives, become transnationally active (Morales and Jorba 2010; Lacroix 2010a). The motives that do emerge encompass four categories: moral, political, economic, and philanthropic. Moral bonds lie at the basis of many of the transnational activities of migrant organizations. These bonds are strongly associated with the relationship between migrants in the destination country and the non-migrants remaining in the village of origin. Migration impacts the identity of a community and changes the roles or the status of the individuals attached to that community. Migration both separates and binds people. Villagers may support each other by providing money, offering places to stay, and establishing care systems for those who remain. As such, migration shapes a “moral framework” (Lacroix 2010a, 10). The role of migrant collectives, hometown associations in particular, is to guarantee that migrants comply with all kinds of communal duties while they are abroad, as “long-distance villagers” (Lacroix 2010a, 10; Godin et al. 2012; Fox and Bada 2008). Moreover, migrants' participation in development projects gives them a certain legitimacy towards the non-migrants (Lacroix 2009; see also Henry and Mohan 2003, 615).

The quest by migrant organizations to engender political change in their country of origin can be a driver of transnational activities. In this respect, the question is to what extent the activities of migrant organizations can be considered political transnationalism. Some authors consider almost all activities to be political, as they change the local development scene and force local actors to react. Here, we use a narrower interpretation of the concept of political transnationalism as those activities that are directly related to political participation. Examples are efforts to extend political rights to migrant communities, to reincorporate returnees into homecountry politics, to empower local communities as a starting point for wider political change, and calls for democracy and political reform (Østergaard-Nielsen 2003; Itzigsohn 2000). Lacroix and Dumont (2012) mention in this respect the emergence of “a political voice” of Moroccan associations abroad. Moroccan migrant organizations have called attention to the contradiction between the impossibility of renouncing the Moroccan nationality and the lack of the right to vote and be represented in parliament. Economic motives of migrant organizations can be confined to the country of origin or extend to other developing countries. For instance, by pooling funds for investments in income-generating activities, migrant organizations may expect economic profit in the long run. Furthermore, by investing in the local economy, migrant collectives (e.g., hometown associations) might seek to improve the conditions for their own return (Schüttler 2008; Lacroix 2005; Henry and Mohan 2003).

Altruistic motives are another driver of the transnational activities of migrant organizations. Several studies point to the fact that migrant organizations, as collectives, want to do something for their communities back home. They feel privileged because of the opportunities offered to them in their new home country, such as access to education, good health services, and a relatively high standard of living, and they want to share some of this acquired wealth with their relatives in the country of origin. This is distinct from the moral motive, as it is less focused on maintaining specific relationships with the village of origin, as set in a moral framework with migrants still being considered part of the village of origin. Philanthropy is particularly mentioned among recently established migrant organizations and among organizations involved in charities (Lacroix 2010b; Nijenhuis and Zoomers 2015).

Over time, changes have occurred in the character of the transnational orientation of migrant organizations. The emergence of co-development schemes, and the funding opportunities derived from them, has influenced migrant organizations in two ways. First, it has led to a reorientation of the objectives of migrant organizations, resulting in an increase in the number of migrant organizations that focus on development activities within the realm of international development cooperation. Examples of countries where this is observed are France (Lacroix and Dumont 2012), Spain (Cebolla Boado and López-Sala 2012), and the Netherlands (Nijenhuis and Zoomers 2015).

Second, co-development schemes have resulted in the establishment of new migrant organizations that focus almost exclusively on development-oriented activities. Nijenhuis and Zoomers (ibid.) mention the establishment by Ghanaian migrants of several new migrants organizations in the Netherlands. The greater availability of funding has enabled these organizations to become professional development NGOs. A number of new Moroccan organizations have emerged since 2000. These organizations are dedicated solely to development activities in Morocco, and the availability of co-development funds (from the Dutch government) was an important incentive for their establishment (ibid.).

The policies of origin countries have also contributed to change the roles of migrant organizations. According to Godin and colleagues (2012), country-of-origin policies (Morocco in this case) play an important role in enabling associations of migrants (in Belgium) to gain funding. Although funds coming from the Moroccan government through the “Moroccan Citizens from Abroad” association were limited in absolute terms, they served to increase the political and symbolic legitimacy of these organizations and thus enhanced transnational development activities.

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