Considering that established migrant associations often play an active role in migrants’ rights advocacy, the relationship between them and the growing numbers of irregular migrants needs careful scrutiny. Looking at the encounters between irregular Bulgarian Turkish migrants and associations established by their co-ethnics who hold Turkish citizenship in Turkey, our ethnographic evidence shows that co-ethnic migrant associations mobilise the legal frame of ‘ethnic deservingness’ with the intention of welcoming co-ethnics to the Turkish homeland. In the absence of other formal organisations for rights advocacy, associations’ appeals to this frame emerge as a civic resource for the irregular newcomers in their permanent residency claims. At the same time, the same frame hides unequal power relations within co-ethnic communities, that is, newcomers’ peripheral positions within associations and the economic costs of filing claims via associations. This situation creates a representational gap in the associational context between its active members with higher legal capital and irregular newcomers with lower legal capital. Tackling the problem of representation determined by the legal hierarchy, this study questions whether migrant associations should still be considered important political actors when undocumented/irregular migrants outnumber regulars—especially with regard to the immediate political/legal actions they require.

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Keywords Migrant associations, rights claims, representation, ethnic deservingness, legality
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Journal Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Kasli, Z. (2016). Who do migrant associations represent?. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 42(21), 1996–2012. doi:10.1080/1369183X.2015.1137753