EU aid increasingly taken hostage by migration politics

Published: 29th January 2020

EU development aid is increasingly being spent to close borders, stifle migration and push for returns of migrants to Africa, reveals new research published by Oxfam today. This approach is hurting the EU’s diplomatic standing and diverting aid from its true purpose of helping those in need, sometimes even worsening the situation of the people it should support.

The report, ‘EU Trust Fund for Africa: Trapped between aid policy and migration politics’, shows how development funds under the EU Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) are increasingly tied to the domestic policy priorities of EU member states to curb migration, with over a billion euros allocated for this purpose. In contrast, just €56m is allocated to fund regular migration schemes, representing less than 1.5% of the total worth of the EUTF for Africa.

Oxfam's EU migration policy advisor Raphael Shilhav said:

“European governments seem determined to prevent migration at any cost. They are putting short-term wins over strategies that work in the long run, at the expense of those most in need. The EU needs to stop undermining its own values and make sure that all of its engagements in Africa promote stability, democracy and resilience – not the opposite. Development aid is meant to fight poverty, inequality, and the growing climate crisis. It should not be politicised and used as a slush fund for short-term political gain.”

The report reveals that the success of development projects under the EUTF is increasingly measured in the reduction of migration flows, rather than in the development benefits to local communities. When development policy is tied to domestic European affairs objectives, it undermines resilience, economic development, and human mobility that could all help improve the lives of people in Africa.

“Human mobility and sustainable development go hand-in-hand. When people have the option to travel and work, it improves innovation, economic growth, development, and resilience against risks. Nevertheless, many projects under the EUTF do more harm than good by actively hindering migration instead of acknowledging its benefits” said Shilhav.

In several countries, the integration of migration politics into the EU’s external action policies has been counterproductive. In the countries of the Sahel, the European pressure to prevent people from leaving their homes has not taken the repeated droughts and destabilising security situation into account. Aid has been spent on preventing people from adapting to these circumstances, where it should have been spent on supporting them to relocate and integrate in a new place.

In Niger, EU pressure to change laws and policies has led to a reduction in the community’s access to livelihoods, and migration control efforts have undermined resilience and the communities’ trust in their leaders. Meanwhile, Libya remains the most notorious example of short-sighted EU cooperation with and funding for authorities which fuel human trafficking and the arbitrary detention of refugees in horrific and dangerous conditions.

Under the EU Trust Fund, development aid is also increasingly being used as leverage to pressure African countries to cooperate with European demands to combat migration. This approach is causing friction between the EU and some African countries, who emphasise that European pressure to stop migration is damaging their relationship with their citizens, who trust their leaders to promote development options. The political aim of curbing migration is also reducing the space for EU diplomats to push governments on issues such as democracy, human rights and civic space. As EU governments choose to rely on foreign administrations to improve control over borders and returns, they lose the space and legitimacy to work with them on improving respect for human rights.

These worrying trends in the EUTF are set to become mainstream development policy with the next EU long-term budget, the Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF), as European development aid and international partnerships will increasingly be linked with European domestic political priorities.

Oxfam is calling on the EU institutions and member states to review the implementation of the EUTF for Africa to ensure that it falls in line with EU’s development and humanitarian objectives, and make sure that the flaws of the EUTF are not repeated in the next MFF.

Notes to editors

  • The author of the report, Oxfam's EU migration policy advisor Raphael Shilhav, is available for comments and interviews in Brussels.
  • In November 2015, European and African heads of state and government met in Valletta to agree on a common approach to addressing migration. In the political declaration that followed the summit, the parties announced that the ‘EU Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa’ (the EUTF for Africa) – a European financial instrument – will promote the Action Plan which was agreed.
  • The EUTF for Africa is worth over €4.5 billion, with over 89% of the contributions coming from the EU, and around 11% from EU Member States and other donors. Since 2015, the EC has reported the following allocations to each window: €659.2 million for North of Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt), €1,953.2 billion for Sahel and Lake Chad (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal), and €1,406.1 billion for the Horn of Africa (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
  • In the period covered by Oxfam’s research (November 2015 to May 2019), the EUTF for Africa approved projects are worth €3.9 billion. According to Oxfam’s classifications (see our methodology in Annex I), funding for development cooperation stands at 56% of the instrument (€2,179.7m), while spending on migration governance reaches 26% (€1,011m) and spending on peace and security components reaches 10% (€382m) of the total fund. Two percent of the EUTF for Africa (€83.1m) are allocated to research and learning projects, and six percent (€243.8m) are allocated to projects which could not be classified because of insufficient details. Only €56m fund regular migration schemes between African countries or between Africa and the EU. This represents less than 1.5% of the total worth of the EUTF for Africa. Investment in projects directly connected to migration management and border controls has increased in 2018-19 in comparison with 2015-17, at the expense of development cooperation projects.
  • This research followed the methodology of Oxfam’s 2017 report, analysing new EUTF actions and top-ups of old projects announced by the three regional Operational Committees since December 2017. We classified each project under one of the following categories: Migration governance; Peace and security; Development cooperation; Research and monitoring; Unspecified budget support/multipurpose projects. As some projects allocate funding for more than one objective, we split our counting between the objectives, based on the results and indicators listed in each project.

Contact information

Sofia Hansen | Brussels | | Office desk phone: +32 2 234 11 15 | Office mobile: +32 473 56 22 60 | Private mobile: +32 45 61 43 42 8

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.