Public Release: 

Exile groups should not be excluded from political dialogue

Economic & Social Research Council

Members of exile movements are less likely to modify their aims and strategies if they are refused access to dialogue with the political establishment in their host country, according to research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council at the London School of Economics.

The research was presented at a major conference in London yesterday on 'People without Frontiers: the New Global Communities', marking the culmination of a five year research programme into transnational communities funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

The study, which looked at the political activities of Turkish and Kurdish migrants living in four western European countries, concludes that refugee and migrant organisations should be allowed to take part in national political dialogue. "Radicalisation can feed on marginalisation," says Dr Eva Østergaard-Nielsen, project leader. "It is important not to judge refugee or migrant organisations on hearsay. Exile groups can become more introverted and radical if they are excluded."

The research covered migrant groups living in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and the UK and involved interviews with heads of migrant and refugee organisations, policymakers from local and national government and representatives from NGOs. The research found that in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark with more inclusive policies, exile organisations were involved in domestic politics where they tended to work on issues related to their situation in Europe.

In Germany, on the other hand, several organisations, including the Kurdish PKK (now KADEK) have been banned because they are seen as a threat to domestic security.

The study casts doubt on the established notion that exiles lose interest in their homeland politics the longer they stay abroad and the more closely they are integrated in their new countries. Political engagement is not a zero-sum game because migrant and refugee organisations continue to take part in both homeland and immigrant political activities. For example, Turkish Cypriots in London have mobilised around political events in Cyprus for the last 30-40 years and this is an accepted part of the relations between British policymakers and their Turkish Cypriot constituencies.

The report challenges current concern with homeland political engagement among migrants and refugees, notably Muslim and Kurdish organisations. "Migrant or refugee transnational political networks are not synonymous with terrorism or radical movement," says Dr Østergaard-Nielsen, "Homeland politics is not just a matter of Molotov cocktails or demonstrations but also the politics of school curricula and mother tongue teaching. Migrant organisations can also play an important role as bridgeheads between their members and the host country political system," she says.

Exile groups that advocate further democratisation and respect for human rights in Turkey have few opportunities to lobby central government. "Most Turkish and Kurdish organisations are confined to the Hyde Park Corner of diaspora politics where central policymakers rarely pass by," says Dr Østergaard Nielsen. "This is because in Germany, Denmark the Netherlands and to some extent Britain, homeland political lobbying is seen as counter-productive to integration."

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For further information contact: Dr Eva Østergaard-Nielsen, Migration Research Group, Department of Geography, Autonomous University of Barcelona. Telephone 34-932-171-517. Email: evaostergaard@yahoo.co.uk
Or Iain Stewart or Lesley Lilley, ESRC External Relations, telephone 179-341-3032/41-3119.

NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of providing high-quality relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £46 million every year in social science research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is http://esrc.ac.uk.

2. The research project Diaspora-politics of immigrants and refugees from Turkey residing in Germany, the Netherlands, UK and Denmark is part of the ESRC's Transnational Communities Research Programme. The projects within the programme will broaden our understanding of the new and increasingly significant place of globe-spanning social networks in labour, business and commodity markets, political movements and cultural flows. To find out more about the programme contact Dr Stephen Vertovec, programme director on 186-527-4711 or visit the website at http://www.transcomm.ox.ac.uk.

3. REGARD is the ESRC's database of research. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at http://www.regard.ac.uk.

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