Development goes hand-in-hand with human mobility

Kadigueta Barry, 34, who fled the town of Barsalogho, in Burkina Faso, with her husband and four children, leaving everything behind.

For more than a year, violence by armed groups in northern Burkina Faso has forced more than 1.1 million people to flee to safer areas in the south, risking losing everything. This is the case of Kadigueta Barry, 34, who fled the town of Barsalogho with her husband and four children, leaving everything behind. Photo: Samuel Turpin/Oxfam

Blog by Evelien van Roemburg, Head of Oxfam’s EU Office
Published: 17th December 2021

Today is International Migrants Day!

Over the course of recent decades, and especially since 2015, migration management has taken centre stage in the EU’s external policy and in its relations with third countries. It reflects an effort to reduce the number of migrants crossing borders and to increase returns. By doing so, the EU has not only overlooked the needs of people and communities in partner countries, but also the priorities of those countries.

We have seen that EU development aid in the past five years has increasingly been spent on closing borders, stifle migration and push for returns of migrants to (mainly) Africa. For example, under the EU Trust Fund for Africa, over a billion euro was allocated for this purpose. In contrast, only 56 million euro (less than 1.5% of the total value of the Fund) was allocated to fund regular migration schemes. The new NDICI-Global Europe, the EU’s main financial instrument for external action, risks falling in the same trap as it has a 10% target for ‘managing’ migration through a toxic mix of externalizing borders and using aid conditionality.

In several countries, the integration of migration policies into the EU’s external action has been counterproductive, to say the least. In the Sahel region, particularly in Burkina Faso, the pressure put by the EU to prevent people from leaving their homes has not taken the repeated droughts and destabilizing security situation into account. This has fuelled inequality, undermined protection particularly for women, and has contributed to a vicious circle of fragility.

In Niger, EU pressure to change laws and policies on migration has led to reduced access for local communities to livelihoods, and migration control efforts have undermined resilience and the communities’ trust in their leaders. In Tunisia and Morocco, EU migration partnerships have strengthened securitized approaches to migration, while entrenching poor protection standards for migrants and asylum seekers. Meanwhile, Libya remains the most notorious example of EU cooperation with and funding of authorities that, for instance, fuel human trafficking.

In working with partner countries through development aid, we see that this is often used as leverage to pressure particularly African governments to cooperate with European demands to combat migration. This approach is causing friction between the EU and African governments, that emphasize that European pressure to stop migration is damaging the relationship with their citizens, who trust their leaders to promote development options.

So, the externalization of borders and the conditionality of aid on cooperation with the EU’s domestic migration obsession is flawed in many ways: It goes against the EU’s own principles of aid effectiveness; it allows funding to not go where it could have the most impact; it ignores the relationship between migration and development; and it destroys the trust with third country governments.

This paints a bleak picture, but it’s the reality.

To move away from these destructive policies, in which migration partnerships only serve the short-sighted interests of the EU, a new paradigm is needed, one that considers migrant protection, promotes respect for human rights, takes partner countries and their priorities seriously, and above all acknowledges that development goes hand-in-hand with human mobility.

As the world is struggling with the social and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the EU and its members states must seize this opportunity for change and use development aid to overcome poverty, and support partner countries who are hosting the majority of displaced people around the world.

But it cannot be achieved through funding alone. It also requires a complete rethink of the EU’s approach to migration and development, which includes close collaboration with EU member states in Team Europe Initiatives; the introduction of regular migration schemes; and respect for human rights and international law in all the EU’s migration policies.

With this in mind, let’s celebrate today's International Migrants Day!