25.4.2013 | Von:
Ludger Pries

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.

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.Immigrant mothers in Hamburg provide advice to other immigrant families. (© picture-alliance/dpa)


As indicated above, MSOs are almost never limited to one single responsibility, field of activity or social and societal role: "Migrant self-organizations are […] rarely specialized. Rather, they usually take a holistic, multifunctional approach" (Gaitanides 2003: 26, transl. by the author), and they are involved in very different areas.[1] They may, for example, help recent immigrants on their arrival in the host country by absorbing the culture shock and offering them a first point of contact to give them the opportunity to make contacts and build social networks in the country of arrival which extend beyond family relationships. As a result, the migrants gain access to resources which facilitate the integration process, such as information about the educational system and the labor market in the host country. In addition, MSOs contribute to the formation of a collective identity and "increasingly become agencies for interest representation and intercultural dialogue" (Ibid.: 27). They act as contacts for the municipal administration and politics, in that the opinion leaders within MSOs have privileged access to their community of origin. As discussed earlier, some MSOs not only have host-country-related functions but also influence developments in their members' country of origin, such as by using donations to support humanitarian projects. However, MSOs do not just serve as points of contact for immigrants and their descendants but may also be of interest to German citizens who do not have a migration background. For example, MSOs may provide professional development in the form of courses in the language of their members' country of origin.


The tasks, goals, and influences defined by the MSOs themselves or by their environment can change over time (see the articles in Pries and Sezgin 2010). They are thus by no means inflexible but rather they are dynamic.

Because migrants organize themselves into organizations, they are perceived as social actors (BMFSFJ 2011) who want to participate in such areas as social work, education, housing, health, and politics. MSOs can therefore be considered as forums for civil involvement and the creation of social capital through the social networks and the resources they provide.

This complexity of roles makes it difficult to identify any effects MSOs may have which are unambiguous and do not change over time (Müller-Hofstede 2007). The ways in which MSOs are perceived by the general public and the scholarly community also change. (Muslim) religious associations in particular have often been viewed with some skepticism since the attacks of September 11, 2001, but the political scientist Christoph Müller-Hofstede and many other experts who have done research on the issue have emphasized the considerable integration potential of MSOs and the opportunities these organizations give individuals through their services in the areas of active citizenship and integration policy, such as the provision of everyday knowledge, assistance (especially with school integration), and orientation during the immigration phase (see also Hunger 2004: 18ff.).

This text is part of the policy brief on "Migrant Organizations: Size, Structures, and Significance".


The discussion of the roles of MSOs provided here is based on observations by Gaitanides (2003).



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