Diaspora Engagement in Development – the Role of Refugees

In the literature and policy-making on migration and development, migrants are increasingly recognized as transnational actors who can make contributions to their countries of origin from the country of settlement. With this recognition, many aid agencies, including EU member states have become to increase diaspora engagement in development programs. In this process, however, the challenge they face is the fragmentation of diaspora groups. A common approach in addressing this ‘problem’ has been to call for (and support) umbrella organizations that represent all the different factions of a diaspora.

Despite this, the faction that remains difficult to incorporate into development programs has been the refugee diaspora. Although recognized as often the most marginalized groups in migrant communities, donors argue that refugee diasporas tend to be too politicized and hence difficult to engage in development programs, which are often meant to be as non-political as possible. The result has therefore been to exclude refugee diasporas from development programs. Unfortunately, such an approach overlooks the strengths that the different diaspora groups, including refugees, bring to the development agenda. Building on our research into Syrian refugees, Afghan refugees and diasporas from Africa, our article for the World Bank, Diasporas, development and diplomacy, points out that a simple bureaucratic process of distinguishing funding pools related to migration and development may go a long way in supporting more effective diaspora engagement in development, including by refugees.

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