Migrant Organizations: Size, Structures, and Significance

People with similar conceptions of life or shared interests organize themselves in various ways into associations. This is also true of migrants who form organizations because of their common cultural, political, economic or social interests and values. Roughly one-fifth of the German population has a so-called migration background which means that they can point to their own experiences with migration or to that of their parents’ generation. Accordingly, there is a broad spectrum of migrant organizations; estimates are that there are between 10,000 and 20,000 such associations in the country. Their role in the social integration of individuals and in the support of migrants’ interests and participation has been the subject of some controversy over the question of whether migrant organizations tend to promote or hinder the integration of people with a migration background.

The first section introduces the concept of migrant organizations. The next section examines their distribution and activity structure in Germany, and the following discusses the significance of migrant self-organizations for processes of social participation on the basis of the current state of social scientific research. A short summary concludes this policy brief.


Individuals with a migration background

Individuals with a migration background are "all immigrants to the present territory of the Federal Republic of Germany after 1949, as well as all foreigners born in Germany and all individuals born as Germans in Germany with a least one immigrant parent or one parent born as a foreigner in Germany" (Statistisches Bundesamt 2012: 6, transl. by the author). As of 2011, there were 16 million individuals with a migration background living in Germany, representing 19.5 percent of the population (Ibid.: 7). Although the concept is not uncontroversial, it is used here for lack of a consensual alternative to apply to those people who as a result of their own or their parents' migration experiences beyond nation-state borders are able, on the one hand, to mobilize particular abilities and competencies (for example multilingualism, knowledge of and understanding for different cultures) but on the other are also confronted with special challenges in making their claims to social participation heard.

Niederlassung des Türkischen Bundes in Berlin-Brandenburg

Ludger Pries

What Are Migrant Organizations?

In public debate, migrant organizations are often perceived and treated as relatively homogeneous, as reflected in such expressions as "the Islamic associations". In fact, however, these organizations sometimes vary considerably in terms of their goals and orientation as religious, business, political or cultural, self-help, welfare or leisure associations.

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Mitglieder des 1989 gegründeten "Türkisch-Islamischen Kulturzentrums München" (DITIM) sitzen am Freitag (11.12.2009) nach dem Gebet in ihrer Moschee in der Schanzenbachstraße in München (Oberbayern) und trinken Tee. Die Gebetsräume von DITIM befinden sich in einem ehemaligen Möbelhaus in einem Hinterhof im Stadtteil Sendling.

Ludger Pries

Number and Structure of Migrant Organizations in Germany

Religious associations – and, most important in this case, mosque associations – are often described as typical migrant organizations in public debates. The research shows that more than two thirds of migrant organizations actually are secular in character.

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Das Logo des Fußballvereins Türkiyemspor Berlin.

Ludger Pries

The Role of Migrant Organizations in Social Participation

Some studies have concluded that migrants who are strongly involved in country-of-origin-related social relations are also less likely to integrate into their host country. However, other studies have stressed the generally positive integration effects of internal ethnic integration.

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Die Stadtteilmutter Delphine Takwi (l) berät am 12.12.2012 in Hamburg im Diakonie-Hilfswerk eine junge Afrikanische Mutter mit ihrem 7 Monate alten Kind. Sie dringen in Bereiche vor, zu denen Deutsche keinen Zutritt haben: Mütter mit Migrationshintergrund helfen Einwandererfamilien in Hamburg-Altona, in der neuen Heimat Fuß zu fassen.

Multidimensionality and the Dynamic Character of Migrant Organizations

The tasks, goals, and influences defined by the MSOs themselves or by their environment can change over time. They are thus by no means inflexible but rather they are dynamic.

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Der Sprecher einer Gruppe Hungerstreikender, Ashkan Khorasani (M), spricht am 29.06.2013 vor dem Camp der Gruppe auf dem Rindermarkt in München (Bayern) mit Vermittlern. Die Asylbewerber kämpfen um die Anerkennung ihrer Asylanträge.

Interaction between Migrant Organizations and their Environments

Relating to the interaction between migrant organizations and their environments attention shall be paid to a country's migration policies as well as to the units of reference and the legitimizing agents of the respective organizations.

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Eine Frau schreit und gestikuliert am 11.01.2013 in Hamburg bei einer Kundgebung kurdischer Organisationen. Die Demonstranten erinnern an die Erschießung von drei kurdischen Aktivistinnen in Paris. Foto: Axel Heimken/dpa

MSOs between the Countries of Origin and Arrival

MSOs are able to implement a variety of activities in the country of arrival as well as in the country of origin and can have participation-promoting effects on the societies involved as well as on their members.

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Ludger Pries


The exact nature of the various roles migrant organizations play as either 'bridges to integration' or 'integration traps' not only depends on the organizations themselves, but also strongly depends on the social environment in which they act.

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Migrant Organizations


Here you can find references for the Policy Brief "Migrant Organizations: Size, Structures, and Significance" by Ludger Pries.

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Hier können Sie Kurzdossiers und Länderprofile von focus migration abonnieren.

Mehr lesen auf focus-migration.de


Zahlen zu Asyl in Deutschland

Wie viele Menschen suchen in Deutschland Asyl? Woher kommen sie? Wie viele Asylanträge sind erfolgreich? Und wie viele Menschen werden abgeschoben? Wir stellen die wichtigsten Zahlen zum Thema Asyl und Flucht monatlich aktualisiert in einfachen Infografiken dar.

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