The European Union has been urged to shed more light on how it is spending emergency money intended to curb mass migration from Africa to Europe.
In a report to be published next month, Oxfam will call on the European commission to boost transparency of the EU-Africa emergency trust fund, which was created by EU leaders in 2015 to stem the flow of people making the dangerous Mediterranean crossing to Italy.
The fund has made €1.9bn (£1.67bn) available for 117 projects in 26 African countries, as Brussels seeks to maximise its foreign policy leverage to control migration.
But Oxfam is concerned that lack of clarity over funding could mean EU aid money is repackaged as border security with no development goals.
“There needs to be a lot more transparency,” said Raphael Shilhav, Oxfam’s EU migration policy adviser, who is drafting the report. “Emergency funding is not a bad thing, but when we respond quickly there needs to be accountability and transparency.”
Oxfam’s preliminary analysis, shared with the Guardian, shows that three-quarters of the 2016 funding was dedicated to development and peace-building projects, such as skills training in Ethiopia or refugee integration in Uganda.
Less than a quarter was spent on migration management, such as security along the Mali-Niger-Burkina Faso border.
Oxfam does not oppose border management, but Shilhav called for clarity about the nature of such projects.
“Is the pull going to state security and more guards [on] the borders to stop people from moving irregularly, or is the pull going to stability, so people feel it on the ground, in a way that supports development?” he said.
The NGO, which runs four EU trust fund projects, worries the focus on borders may detract from poverty-reduction and local priorities. Pointing to the EU-backed campaign against smuggling in the Niger desert town of Agadez, Shilhav asked: “Is the real emergency in Agadez? Or is the European emergency in Agadez and actually the local emergency is elsewhere in the Lake Chad region?”
Aliyyah Ahad, at the Migration Policy Institute in Brussels, said the fund would benefit from more transparency. “It is not entirely obvious how the EU is deciding [its] priorities … or how countries become eligible for the trust fund.”
The EU did not have any obvious benchmarks for success, she said: “When will we even know if we have achieved our goals, [as] we don’t necessarily have quantifiable, measurable goals?”
“What the trust fund did was send a strong signal to partner countries that migration was the priority that could no longer be avoided, that the EU was serious about pursuing migration management in Africa and would put their money where their mouth is.”
EU leaders offered African countries an initial €1.8bn in late 2015, partly in exchange for their co-operation in the deportation of migrants who did not qualify to stay in the EU.
Since the start of 2017, 138,300 people have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean to Europe, while 2,655 have died or gone missing in the attempt. While the numbers travelling to Italy have fallen sharply since 2016, officials believe there could be an increase without continued measures.
Many people on these dangerous journeys are unlikely to qualify for refugee status, but hope for jobs and opportunities that do not exist in their home countries.
With remittance flows to sub-Saharan Africa expected to be worth $34bn (£25.8bn) in 2017 – several times higher than the EU trust fund – the numbers of Africans trying to reach Europe will remain significant for years to come.
The EU trust fund is intended to prevent migration by tackling unemployment, insecurity and poverty. Officials acknowledge there will never be enough money, while political answers are needed to bring peace to many war-hit countries.
One diplomat recalls the message from an African counterpart in 2015, as the EU began preparing its trust fund: “[One] state said, if you really want a significant cut in migration you must give us some [serious] money. There was silence around the table.”
Last week the president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, rebuked governments for “shedding crocodile tears” over Africa. EU member states had offered €175m to the EU-Africa fund he said, rather than €1.8bn Brussels had asked for. As a result, the fund largely comes from the EU budget.
EU diplomats counter that the EU budget is European money, but some countries, such as Germany, have pledged more, after an appeal from Juncker.
A UN official working with the trust fund stressed it was wrong to underestimate the importance of border security when such projects were managed according to human rights and international refugee law.
“Which country does not need to have good border management? Border management is also about tackling organised crime, the trafficking of arms, drugs, human beings; it is not only about ‘fighting irregular migration’.”
An EU spokesperson said that addressing irregular migration and forced displacement was an integral part of development policy.
“All measures under the trust fund are development assistance, including those that focus on migration management. They have a clear development objective as they help to create and develop the capacities of our partner countries to protect people as they migrate, strengthen their resilience and ensure their rights are protected.
“All measures abide by the very strict OECD rules and are designed to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. No aid is being diverted away from development objectives.”
“We take transparency as well as monitoring and evaluation very seriously,” the spokesperson added, pointing to EU rules, as well as efforts to keep informed the European parliament, by sending MEPs the trust fund’s annual report, accounts and MEP observer status on the EU trust fund board.
$2bn EU-Africa ‘anti-migration’ fund too opaque, say critics – The Guardian