By Cæcilie Svop Jensen
Diaspora organizations face constraints in host countries, among other things with regards to their level of access to policy makers, as well to the larger political opportunity structures (POSs) in the host countries (see for instance Baser 2017; Ong’ayo 2019).
Diaspora mobilization and behavior are directly related to the possibilities and limits imposed by the host country (Østergaard-Nielsen 2003). These larger policy structures have a very real local level impact on the everyday lives of diasporas and diaspora organizations having to navigate these, and these links are therefore important to investigate in order to fully grasp diaspora dynamics. The interviews conducted as part of the DIASCON research project, help shed light on some of the strategies developed by diasporas who operate in these structures, which in turn can help expose some of the opportunities for alleviating the negative effects of POSs at the local level. Constraints are often multi-dimensional, and several factors can influence the spaces for mobilization of diasporas simultaneously. Constraints in the host countries can pertain to for instance lack of access to resources, difficulty in getting the agendas of organizations acknowledged in policy making, or limited and difficult funding mechanisms; but the leg-room for diaspora organizations also depends on the foreign policy of the host country and the relationship of the host country with the country of origin (Baser 2017, p. 677).
The research done by the DIASCON research project offers valuable insight into these particular dynamics. During the course of the DIASON research project, several interviews were conducted with CSOs and representatives of diaspora organizations which helped shed light on the ways exclusion from and inclusion in policy making materialize in different contexts and shape the actions of the organizations. Often, policy makers do not grasp the complexity of the diaspora communities, or as one interviewee put it, ‘sometimes policy makers do not know to whom they are speaking’. It poses challenges as organizations try to form a unified voice, but need to navigate in a highly complex and often politicized community, challenges that are likely to be even more prevalent in diasporas where conflict in the country of origin is ongoing (see for instance Féron 2017; Koinova 2016). This is only made more complicated as umbrella organizations tend to be prioritized as interlocutors by host countries over smaller organizations, because they are often perceived to be more representative. In reality however, this is rarely the case. Diasporas are heterogeneous and complex and often have multiple and contradictory agendas simultaneously, which does not fit well with a structural preference for umbrella organizations. Among diasporas originating from areas of ongoing conflict, these differing goals and agendas can be especially conflictual and needs in the country of residence can be significantly different from those diasporas who do not originate from these areas. In this context, ensuring representativity is challenging, but glossing over these processes can unintentionally fuel competition and division within or between diaspora organizations in host countries.
Moreover, diasporas are rarely involved in policies that affect or influence their opportunities for mobilization in the country of residence, nor the foreign policies related to the country of origin. In excluding diasporas from these processes, policy makers run the risk of missing out on valuable insights and contributions, and wasting the positive potential of diasporic communities. In fact, when diasporas’ are ‘utilized’ they are often operationalized for the benefit of the home or host country, and often without direct contact between policy makers and members of the diasporas. There are also risks of perpetuating or instigating conflicts in the diasporas, when policy makers address issues in the diasporas without paying attention to their internal differences. It is therefore not just a matter of inclusion, rather inclusion in the right way. Additionally, diasporas originating from conflict areas tend to be framed by what is happening in the country of origin alone, thereby overlooking other aspects of their diasporic experience, including their interests in the country of residence. All of these processes influence the everyday behavior of diaspora organizations, how they interact with local authorities, what they do to gain access and the way they frame their activity. It also influences the issues they take up and the way they choose to do so. It is important to emphasize that diaspora organizations can themselves be excluding, for instance by lacking the representation of young people or women, and that processes of exclusion therefore should not be understood as solely a matter of policy making and structures in the country of residence.
The ways in which policy makers engage diasporas and the influence of the opportunity structures in the country of residence on diasporas, are important yet complex dynamics that warrant more research. In order to understand and properly engage with diaspora communities, it is necessary to shed light on the ways these dynamics influence the everyday mobilization of, and strategies adopted by diaspora organizations when navigating constraints and opportunities in the host country. While existing research on diaspora mobilization, POSs and home and host state configurations embrace the need for complexity in understanding these processes, there is still much to be learned from looking at local experiences in this context.
Baser, B. 2017. ‘Tailoring Strategies According to Ever-Changing Dynamics: The Evolving Image of the Kurdish Diaspora in Germany’, Terrorism and political violence. [Online] 29 (4), 674–691.
Féron, É. 2017. ‘Transporting and re-inventing conflicts: Conflict-generated diasporas and conflict autonomisation’, Cooperation and conflict. [Online] 52 (3), 360–376.
Koinova, M. 2016. ‘Sustained vs. Episodic Mobilization among Conflict-Generated Diasporas’ International Political Science Review 37 (4): 500–516. 36. doi: 10.1177/0192512115591641
Ong’ayo, A.O. 2019, ‘Diasporic civic agency and participation: inclusive policy-making and common solutions in a Dutch municipality’, Social Inclusion, vol. 7 (4), pp. 152-163
Østergaard-Nielsen, E. 2003. The Politics of Migrants’ Transnational Political Practices. Oxford: Oxford University Press.