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25.4.2013 | Von:
Ludger Pries

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.

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/dpaKurdish organisations hold a protest in Hamburg. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

MSOs connect their members' societies of origin and societies of arrival. For example, for the members of an organization of Turkish-born parents, Turkey will continue to be the main point of reference to define common interests even if their organization provides additional German language courses for their own children because it is very strongly oriented toward the country of arrival and toward integration. The cross-border character and reference of MSOs are much more obvious, such as when the MSOs express their views on human rights in the countries of origin or when they organize relief efforts or money transfers to such countries. The cross-border character of MSOs has been confirmed by several studies. For example, in a study on the voluntary involvement of people of Turkish origin in Germany, 12 percent of those surveyed indicated that the work of their MSO was equally oriented toward Germany and Turkey (Halm and Sauer 2005), and a survey among MSOs in North Rhine-Westphalia which also focused on the cross-border activities of these organizations found that as many as 13 percent named providing humanitarian aid in the country of origin as their main area of activity (MASSKS-NRW 1999a; 1999b).

According to Thränhardt (2000), close relationships of migrants and their MSOs to the society of origin expand their social capital, and social networks in the country of origin and can promote successful integration into the country of arrival, such as by providing social and personal stability. Many MSOs in Germany are much more strongly oriented toward the country of origin of their members than MSOs in other countries: "It should be noted that the strong orientation of migrant self-organizations toward the country of origin was also the result of the official doctrine held until the end of the millennium that Germany was not a country of immigration and of the many obstacles to naturalization. In the United Kingdom, most immigrants are naturalized on the basis of long-standing Commonwealth privileges. As a result, the self-organizations of these migrants are much more involved in the social integration and the political participation issues which affect ethnic immigrant minorities than German migrant self-organizations" (Gaitanides 2003: 27, transl. by the author).

In countries which explicitly define themselves as immigrant societies, the prospects of participation for migrants are in all probability more clearly oriented toward these very countries of immigration than in countries in which an immigration option is negated or handled very restrictively, in which latter case the life and participation strategies continue to be oriented toward the country of origin as well. A recent comparative study on MSOs in Germany, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Spain (Pries and Sezgin 2012) has shown that these differences between the national migration regimes also play a role in determining whether MSOs orient themselves toward the country of arrival, the country of origin, or both.

Generally speaking, the research shows that the functions of MSOs which promote social participation are not determined by whether they orient themselves either toward the country of arrival or toward the country of origin. Rather, MSOs are able to implement a variety of activities in both areas of reference and can have participation-promoting effects on the societies involved as well as on their members.

In recent years, the potential of MSOs to promote economic and social development in the country of origin and to facilitate integration into the country of arrival have been more widely discussed (see, e.g., Schimany and Schock 2010: 332ff.; BAMF 2012; BMZ 2012). While in other countries the discussion of this issue has been going on for some time (on the debate in the U.S., for example, see Portes et al. 2007; 2008), the problem in Germany is that now, after decades of disregard and suspicious surveillance, the importance of MSOs may be completely blown out of proportion and MSOs are regarded as the new 'silver bullet' for development and integration.

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

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