25.4.2013 | Von:
Ludger Pries

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.

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.June 2013: Asylum seekers on hunger strike in Munich speak to mediators. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

In addition to the multidimensional and dynamic character of MSOs, one must also consider the interaction of MSOs with the opportunity structures and policies of their environment (Koopmans and Statham 2000; Pries 2010). These are influenced primarily by the predominant migration regime of the society of arrival and by the 'organizational field' in which migrant organizations operate (see the definition below).

Migration regime

A national migration regime, as understood here, is a country's system of values, laws, practical policies, and procedures relating to the control of migration (emigration and immigration regulations) and the treatment — that is, the inclusion or exclusion — of individuals with a migration background. This concept involves four key dimensions.

The first dimension is the historical context of a country, which may include its status as a country of emigration and/or immigration; its colonial history and the rules that have resulted from it; its explicit recruitment, immigration, and emigration policies; the historical/cultural national self-image, and the resulting concepts of citizenship and social participation.

The second dimension relates to the general sociopolitical system of institutions which is relevant to people with a migration background, such as the fundamental model which migrants and their associations can use to gain access to the political system (as a result of their own organization’s struggle for public influence or the formation of groups within established parties and organizations), the various political parties’ stance on migration (distribution or concentration of migration-related issues among the parties, migrants in leading positions in parties and parliaments, types of integration or assimilation orientation), and the public institutions which deal with migration and integration (in the case of Germany, for example, the role of associations such as AWO, Caritas, Diakonie, the German Red Cross, officially recognized religious institutions, and labor unions).

The third dimension of the migration regime involves the formal rights and actual opportunities for participation given to migrants. It relates primarily to the different status groups of people with a migration background (migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers, ethnic emigrants, citizens of former colonies, etc.), their residence status, the typical procedures involved in the adjustment of migrant rights to full citizenship rights (e.g., passive and active right to vote), and the variety of opportunities for civil and political participation (right of association, integration commissions, opportunities for participation in local government, etc.).

The fourth dimension relates to the opportunities given to migrants to secure a livelihood and to find employment. Pertinent questions include: How much access do migrants have to the systems of social security and to the labor market? What policies and mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion, of discrimination or equal treatment do the government and the major collective and corporate groups of actors follow?

Organizational field

In addition to these four key dimensions of national migration regimes, studies of MSOs must also give attention to the particular specific organizational field in which they operate; that is, the entire set of organizations that are important to an MSO as units of reference and legitimizing agents of its collective activities (other MSOs, political parties, government agencies, foreigners' councils, federations of labor unions). Without considering the migration regime of the country under study (on the national level of the countries of origin and arrival and on the supranational level, such as the level of the EU) and the corresponding organizational fields, it is practically impossible to engage in a scientifically based and empirically grounded discussion of the wide range of roles which MSOs can play, from serving as ‘a bridge to integration’ to acting as 'an integration trap'.[1]

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


For an example of an international comparative study on active cross-border MSOs, see Pries and Sezgin (2012) and the international literature cited therein; on MSOs in Germany, see also Hunger and Candan (2009); MASSKS-NRW (1999a); Müller-Hofstede (2007).
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