Home Sociology Integration Processes and Policies in Europe
This chapter has examined translocal relationships at the meso level, in particular, those linking local governments and migrant organizations in the country of destination with those in the country of origin. Our review shows that both types of linkages produce a gamut of activities, from knowledge exchange through municipal partnerships to the subsidizing of migrant civic organizations, provision of charity goods, and lobbying for migrant rights.
A few observations can be made regarding the main characteristics of these activities. First, translocal activities by migrant organizations are sometimes funded by local governments, and municipal partnerships with countries of origin are sometimes mediated by migrant organizations. Second, translocal activities are usually initiated by local governments and migrant organizations in countries of destination. Third, translocal activities are generally not the core business of local governments and migrant organizations; their focus is typically on the migrant destination country.
This raises the question why actors at the meso level engage in translocal activities. Our analysis found that the desire to strengthen social cohesion and stimulate integration at the local level is usually the main driver for local governments. Local governments start partnerships with cities in countries of origin or support initiatives of migrant organizations in their own municipalities mainly because they expect to reap added value from connecting their integration policies to international cooperation. In addition, they are involved in processes aiming at strengthening local governance in partner municipalities. For migrant organizations, the picture is more diffuse, with a mixture of moral obligations, political and economic objectives, and philanthropy as central features.
Additionally, local government partnerships between migrant origin and destination countries suggest an equal relationship, having a two-way character, with potential benefits for both parties. Such an explicit two-way character is often absent from local governments' support to translocal activities by migrant organizations and initiatives of migrant organizations.
From an economic perspective, the development impact of activities is relatively limited, as they are relatively small in scale and mainly related to social infrastructure, such as the construction of schools or the provision of hospital equipment (by migrant organizations), or waste management and public safety (by local governments). More important, however, is the impact these linkages have on other dimensions of development, like the relationship between the state and civil society. This applies to both municipal partnerships and the initiatives of migrant organizations. Examples include the effect of municipal partnerships in improving the interface between local government and civil society actors in countries of origin and the results of lobbying by a migrant organization for an improved position of women in the country of origin. Moreover, our review of the literature suggests a positive relationship between translocal activities at the meso level and integration in the country of destination.
Although the literature is sparse on strengthening social cohesion through local governments' international activities, the available findings confirm previous research suggesting that engagement in international exchange programmes enhances integration in the destination country. Similar effects can be observed for the activities of migrant organizations, as translocal activities force them to become active members of society in the country of destination. However, the relationship between integration and transnational activities depends on the characteristics of diasporas and policies and funding opportunities in the country of destination. Moreover, the added value of these policies should not be overstated. Most synergy between translocal activities and integration is created by activities that actively link translocal efforts to the country of destination, for example, in multi-actor collaborations, such as those encompassing migrant organizations, NGOs, and other civic and public sector organizations (see also Marini 2014).
Adding to this, an interesting form of “three-way” integration is reported whereby actors at the meso level in a country of origin play a role in supporting integration processes in the country of destination. Moroccan municipalities, for instance, dedicated their time and knowledge to stimulate the participation—political and otherwise—of Moroccan migrants in Dutch municipalities.
Our review found that policies and funding opportunities are crucial elements. Various national and local governments have implemented co-development policies (accompanied by funding schemes) to support initiatives by migrant organizations within the framework of migration and development. This has shifted the orientation of local governments and migrant organizations towards a more developmentoriented approach and triggered the emergence of new migrant organizations. The emphasis on translocal activities from a migration and development perspective has implications for the interpretation of these activities. To start with, policymakers have tended to consider migrants and their organizations mainly as a “development tool”, ignoring other, perhaps more important, roles. Moreover, from this perspective, development is often narrowed down to a rather output-oriented and normative view focused on, for example, the size of collective investments or the number of schools built, rather than on processes of social transformation (see also Sinatti and Horst 2014). Finally, one might question the motives underlying this framework.
Some municipalities, for instance, have had controversial objectives like encouraging remigration. Questions could also be asked about the way initiatives are set up, executed, and assessed.
The economic crisis and resulting budget cuts in Western Europe since 2008 has put co-development programmes under pressure, threatening along with them some migrant organizations' funding for translocal activities. Funding constraints have also affected the activities of local governments in origin countries, as all levels of government have had to slash budgets. Nationally funded support programmes have been phased out, which has had an impact at the local level (Van Ewijk 2013). According to Van Ewijk (ibid.), linking to countries of origin remains on the agendas of those local governments that have already established linkages, but financial resources dedicated to these partnerships have been reduced, and government actors are playing a less intensive role, creating more room for civil society to step in. Some local governments have shifted their international cooperation focus to economic objectives and increasingly focus on partnerships with cities in emerging economies like the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). As such, the transnational linkages of local governments and migrant organizations represent a highly dynamic form of relationship between countries of destination and countries of origin.
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