Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

By Nur Mohamed

Sustainable development cannot be achieved without peace, stability and good governance. Recognising this crucial fact in its new proposed development framework, the European Commission pledges to foster human rights, security and conflict prevention in fragile countries. However, the EU’s current approach to migration shows an alarming twisting of development efforts to accommodate a logic of control and deterrence. These security-oriented efforts could have a destructive impact on human rights.

In the proposal for a new European Consensus on Development, the EU is renewing its commitment to fighting poverty and suffering wherever they exist, as well as engaging in efforts to prevent and address their major drivers – conflicts and crises. The proposal also includes a commitment to make emergency humanitarian responses and sustainable development more coherent in order to build the resilience of communities, and to increase their capacity to manage and adapt to risks. It supports them in increasingly becoming able to provide for their own needs.

The risks and vulnerabilities standing in the way of sustainable development are multiple – they relate to inequality, human rights abuses, violence and climate-related disasters. The most effective ways to address these risks lie in the capacity of local institutions to deliver services, to respond to citizens’ grievances in accountable and just ways, and to ensure people live in a safe environment.

EU’s migration response in stark contrast to high ambitions

The proposal for a new Consensus on Development has promising language identifying migration as a complex, global, long-lasting phenomenon, which requires a carefully designed, balanced, evidence-based and sustainable policy response. It also recognises the positive contribution of migration and mobility to inclusive growth and sustainable development.

However, the EU’s recent response to migration tells another story. Reorienting its foreign and development policies in an attempt to stop migration to Europe, the EU falls short of recognising the complexity of migration, and it consistently and insistently puts the need to reduce cross-border movement at the centre of its action.

Oxfam therefore fears that the EU will instrumentalise development aid in order to restrict mobility. The actual purpose of development aid is to reduce and eradicate poverty and inequality. In other words: it is about people, and it is not about perceived security interests in Europe.

In this respect, development policy should take account of the potential contributions of increased mobility, and certainly should not attempt to stifle it. Also, donors of development aid must clearly distinguish between development aimed at addressing forced displacement and people-centred management of migration on one side, and security co-operation aimed at addressing irregular migration on the other side.

Focus needed on support to people in need

Recent moves by the EU are also supporting a narrative where the ‘challenges’ of migration relate not so much to the need to address people’s legitimate desire for a safe and dignified life, as to a narrative where migration becomes a ‘threat’ to ward off.

The EU’s vow to clamp down on human trafficking along migrant routes is a case in point: while EU governments have been citing concerns for people’s lives, they have been stubbornly ignoring that the lack of safe and regular channels is one of the reasons why people are choosing risky journeys at the hand of smugglers.

Another worrying link between migration and development is also drawn in the Partnership Framework announced in June: modelled on the blueprint of the EU-Turkey deal, the framework fits the bloc’s objective of preventing migration to Europe and speeding up deportation of ‘illegal migrants’ in exchange for development aid. These funds are made conditional on partner countries accepting to engage in migration management on behalf of EU governments.

Risk that a development policy focused on securitisation will backfire

This principle of ‘aid conditionality’ signals the twisting of the very nature of development cooperation, in stark contradiction with the promise of the proposed new Consensus on Development that this will not see ‘any diversion of effort’ from the ‘prime focus of poverty eradication’.

The ongoing shift in focus of EU policies towards security and deterrence is likely to prove self-defeating. By making aid subservient to its security agenda, the EU runs the serious risk that it will fail to address – if not indirectly support – actions that can damage human rights, good governance and, ultimately, sustainable development.

This blog is part of a series analysing the details of the proposed review of the European Consensus on Development. Read all our stories on the EU’s new development framework.

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