Development aid failures exacerbate migrant crisis

A migrant boat being intercepted in the Canary Islands. [Noborder Network/Flickr]

Chronic underdevelopment in many African countries is intensifying the crisis unfurling on Europe’s doorstep. But EU development aid continues to decline. EURACTIV France reports

EU leaders held an emergency summit in Brussels after 900 migrants drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean on 19 April. Measures were agreed to increase surveillance along the bloc’s Mediterranean coastline.

EU asylum policy reform was set aside, after Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s action plan failed to gain support.

>> Read: Juncker suffers double blow on immigration at summit

But beyond improving surveillance in the Mediterranean and discussing the reform of migration policy, the heads of state failed to address one of the most pressing issues contributing to the migrant crisis: the lack of official development assistance and humanitarian aid.

A French diplomatic source told EURACTIV that the question of development was one of the “deeper causes” behind the flood of migrants arriving on the EU’s shores. “The situation in Libya, in Syria, in Eritrea, and the poverty in Africa more generally, are long-term subjects that are not helping to resolve the current situation in the Mediterranean,” the diplomat added.

Many experts agree that addressing the chronic underdevelopment and instability of these regions is a vital part of solving the migratory crisis. “The international community must step up its peace-building and development efforts in poor and insecure countries – or else the problems associated with mass migration will never be contained, let alone resolved,” said Alessandro Bechini, of Oxfam Italy.

The pressure mounts

The migratory pressure on the external borders of the EU is mounting. In 2014, the EU border agency Frontex detected 278,000 illegal border crossings, two and a half times more than in 2013. The vast majority of these border crossings were made via the Mediterranean, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

January and February 2015 saw a further 42% increase in illegal arrivals from the Mediterranean, mainly by migrants crossing from Libya.

Such an escalation has been made possible by the collapse of the Libyan state, and further exacerbated by the influx of displaced people fleeing conflicts in Syria, Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia, as well as chronic under-development and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

Between 2004 and 2014, the EU spent more than €1 billion on over 400 migration projects. Over half of these were in African countries.

Development aid cuts

Despite this desperate situation, the European Union and its member states are still failing to meet their development aid commitments to the poorest countries. Many are still a long way off their objective of dedicating 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) to developing countries.

>> Read: French development aid falls below EU average

Aid contributions from the European institutions have increased overall since 2005, and EU aid to sub-Saharan Africa rose from $3.2 billion to $4.5 billion in 2013. But this figure belies the real trajectory of the aid budget, according to figures from the OECD, which show that EU aid to sub-Saharan Africa peaked in 2008 and has been in decline ever since.

The French aid budget for sub-Saharan Africa fell from €3.9 billion to €2.1 billion over the same period, a tendency visible across the board among donor countries. OECD data shows that overall aid from the major donor countries rose by 66% between 2000 and 2014 to reach $135.2 billion.

The organisation also highlights the chronic decline of aid to the least advanced countries. Aid payments to the world’s poorest countries fell from $45.7 billion to $37.8 billion between 2010 and 2014, and many of the migrants that cross the Mediterranean come from countries directly affected by this decline.

Eritrea is a particularly striking example. The East African country, which has the second highest number of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy, has seen its EU aid slashed from €226 million in 2005 to just €14 million in 2013. Eritrea’s political instability was among the reasons behind the EU’s decision to suspend its aid payments in 2011.

Call to order

The European Parliament has urged member states to respect their development targets and invited them to “reaffirm their commitment to dedicate 0.7% of their GNI to official development assistance”. So far only a handful of member states, including the United Kingdom and Sweden, have reached this objective.

The Parliament also called for a greater proportion of aid, at least 0.2% of the GNI from developed countries, to go to the world’s poorest countries. But this objective is also a long way from being reached.

Aid to developing countries grew steadily from 1997, to a first peak in 2010, according to OECD figures.

It fell in 2011 and 2012, as many governments took austerity measures and trimmed aid budgets.

Aid budgets rebounded in 2013, and even taking into account the five countries that joined the DAC that year (Iceland, Poland the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia), official development assistance commitments from DAC members reached a historic high. In 2013, almost €100 billion was spent on aid.

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