Home Impact of emigration - 6. Transnational communities

Impact of emigration

Transnational communities

International migration is creating new social spaces.

Overseas diasporas are nothing new: Jews, Armenians, and many others have maintained scattered communities all over the world. But nowadays, with cheaper transport and communications, it is easier for these people to stay in close touch and to form more coherent 'transnational communities'.

If the source and destination countries are close the migrants can travel regularly back and forth. This kind of circular migration is very common between Mexico and the United States, for example, and between countries in West Africa. At the other end of the transnational scale are the jet-setting Chinese 'astronauts'.

Migrants have been able to take full advantage of advances in telecommunications — phone and email to keep in touch with their home communities. The possibilities for calling home have increased dramatically with the availability of mobile telephones, which have put the rural areas of countries like Bangladesh in closer contact with the outside world.

Although most remittances stay within families, there are also many examples of migrants supporting community development back home. Mexicans in the United States, for example, have around 1,500 ‘ hometown associations’, which have supported all kinds of community activity, from building new roads to repainting the church, to paying for fiestas as well as in business. Such associatiion are also active in may other parts of the world: Malian migrants in France also support development activities at home.

In the past some countries of origin have paid little attention to their diasporas, but a number such as India, are now going out of their way to contact them. This is partly to encourage remittances and return migration but also because these transnational communities are also becoming politically significant — a useful source of votes and campaign funds. At the same time, overseas communities can also finance rebel groups — as with the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

Village phone lady in Bangladesh

Village phone lady in Bangladesh. Mobile phones allow rural families to keep in touch with workers overseas.
Photo: Jeevs Sinclair