In Oxfam’s recent report entitled “The EU Trust Fund for Africa: Trapped between aid policy and migration politics” the NGO exposes a new and worrying trajectory for development aid that is more closely linked with donors’ migration policies and the implicit aim of stopping irregular migration. They warn this trend poses a risk to development actors’ ability to contribute to poverty and inequality reduction.

The ‘EU Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa’ (the EUTF for Africa) is the financial instrument to implement the Action Plan conceived by European and African leaders at the Valetta summit on migration in 2015. Over the last four years the EUTF has been at the forefront of the EU’s attempts to integrate migration politics, foreign policy and partnerships for development.

Oxfam’s 2020 report follows a 2017 report, which demonstrated that, given the convoluted nature of the Valletta Action Plan, the EUTF for Africa was not governed by a clear and coherent policy. It also problematized the flexible nature of the EUTF for Africa. As its programme of action is not agreed in advance but adapts to the context and needs that are identified ‘on the spot’, it provides an opportunity for donors to promote their own domestic political priorities rather than follow a coherent process of policy development, project design and consultation. Despite changes in response to criticism and improvements in public communication and visibility, the new report finds that the fundamental problems with the EUTF for Africa as a flexible instrument have not changed.

Through projects under the EUTF, spending of Official Development Assistance (ODA) is increasingly being tied to the EU’s desire to stop irregular migration and reach agreements with African countries on the return of their nationals. In several countries, for example Ethiopia, Niger, the Gambia and Morocco, development projects have been approved in parallel with progress in the negotiations of agreements on returns and readmission raising concern of African governments regarding the long-term implications it will have for sustainable development.

In terms of purpose and efficiency of particular projects, the research finds that the success of many projects even if unrelated to migration governance, is measured by their contribution to ‘an improved migration management’ and ‘a reduction to irregular migration flows to Europe’., revealing the interest of the donor underlying ODA. Some projects on livelihoods and resilience-building may enable people to move out of harm’s way with newly gained skills, but the target of reducing mobility will mean this is wrongly recorded as a failure, Oxfam notes.

In the period covered by Oxfam’s research (November 2015 to May 2019), the EUTF for Africa approved projects worth €3.9bn. On the allocation of funds, Oxfams finds that investment in projects directly connected to migration management and border controls increased in 2018–19 in comparison with 2015–17, at the expense of development cooperation projects. Just €56m (1.5%) is allocated to fund regular migration schemes between African countries or between Africa and the EU.

Oxfam recommends that the allocation of aid to partner countries should not be conditional on their cooperation with the EU’s demands regarding returns and readmission or border management. A clear structure is needed to ensure the use of funding is in line with development and humanitarian objectives and principles. Migration-related spending should aim to reduce vulnerabilities, address needs and promote resilient development and the amount of spending should be decided according to evidence-based projections, not on political positioning. Oxfam also provides recommendations for the design of new projects under the EUTF for Africa and for actors implementing existing projects as well as with regard to monitoring, reporting and review.

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Photo: (CC): Carolina Ödman, May 2007

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.