30 January 2015

ECRE and the Danish Refugee Council have issued a discussion paper exploring how refugee diasporas contribute to the development of their countries of origin and how they co-operate with NGOs, development organisations and donors.

The paper argues that there is a potentially wide spectrum of cooperation between diaspora groups and other development actors but that for partnerships to succeed it is necessary for diasporas and NGOs to be clear about the terms, objectives and limits of their common work and to ensure ownership of the groups involved. In analysing the added value of diaspora organisations in shaping and implementing development projects, the paper highlights the importance of: their local knowledge; their ability to implement projects in geographical areas that are hard to access for other organisations; and their sustainable interest in the development of their country because of family, social and historical links that reflect a personal stake in the future of their country.

At the same time, the partnerships between diaspora groups and other development actors present some challenges. For example, the paper acknowledges that development agencies are sometimes concerned about the impact on the work of diaspora groups resulting from fragmentation and politicisation. To overcome these difficulties, there is a growing trend to create umbrella organisations and to focus on themes that bring different groups together.

Refugee groups and individuals can support long-term development in the countries of origin, as well as immediate support for other displaced populations. An example of such a practice is in Germany, where diaspora mobilisation helps people fleeing Syria through humanitarian admission and private sponsorship programmes.

The paper concludes that the contribution of diasporas to development should be understood more broadly as including not only socioeconomic development, infrastructure, investments, skills and knowledge transfer back home, but also the promotion of advocacy and activities aimed to enhance democratic practices, human rights institutions and the upholding of human rights principles in the countries of origin and across borders. NGOs should also strengthen partnerships with refugee diaspora groups in the areas of monitoring human rights abuses across borders and bringing forward the voices of refugees and migrants in exile.

This discussion paper is the outcome of consultations between development actors, NGOs and migrant diaspora groups that took place in the framework of the DOMAID project.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 30 January 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.