Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

Oxfam’s new report unpacks the EU’s support for addressing the “root causes” of migration
By Raphael Shilhav

“Root causes”. When it comes to responding to migration and to managing it, there are few phrases that have been more overused and abused.

Since 2015, politicians have been promising to address the “root causes of irregular migration” and stop people from coming to Europe. According to their narrative, everything seems to be a reason for migration: instability, conflicts, poverty, injustice, democratic deficits and disasters have all been designated as “root causes.”

That has implications for the EU’s use of aid money. European politicians want to use the “root causes” narrative as the basis for a worrying new approach to development and humanitarian aid. That approach is one that results in stopping irregular movement towards Europe, instead of engaging in bottom-up, community-level support.
Oxfam’s latest research, “Emergency for Whom?”, unpacks this charged issue, to better understand how Europe’s use of aid is changing and what it means for people’s lives. In particular, we look at the implications of the trend towards migration management and security as linked to development in Africa via the €2 billion “EU Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa”.
A flawed narrative
The EUTF for Africa is a new way of doing aid projects. Its stand-out feature is its flexibility and the way it mixes development with humanitarian aid from different EU institutions – something NGOs have actually been calling for for years.
So what’s wrong? For a start, the EUTF is muddled. It links equal opportunities, security, and development on the one hand, and stability, displacement and migration on the other. But migration and displacement are not the same thing.
Displacement is when people are forced from their homes by crises like famine or war. The “root cause” of migration, meanwhile, is human nature. People will always move – for work, trade, or a better life – and trying to stop them doing so will only make migration less manageable and more dangerous.
The muddling of displacement and migration, crisis and opportunity, in the EUTF’s narrative means its objectives aren’t clear. European politicians are seizing on that ambiguity as a chance to push their own priorities and their own approach to doing aid.
Europe’s fix: stopping, rather than supporting movement
The European fixation on cutting irregular migration to the EU is clear in the trend towards funding projects that aim to restrict people’s movement instead of focusing on increasing their opportunities. More than half of the Trust Fund money allocated to migration management supports projects designed to restrict and discourage irregular migration through migration containment and control. Only a meagre 3% of that budget is allocated to developing safe and regular routes, either to Europe or within the African continent.
People who are displaced from their homes by crises such as conflict, persecution and disasters should be supported along their journey. And no less for people who travel for work or trade – their ability to travel across borders in a safe and regular way is important for their economic resilience, as well as for the communities from which they leave and those who host them.
A security approach to aid
At the same time, roughly half of the funds allocated to supporting security and peacebuilding is channelled to projects working directly with security forces. There is a worrying trend towards supporting military forces without sufficient attention to safeguards – like conflict assessment and community engagement and ownership – that ensure people are actually safe.
In fragile countries and in remote border areas, security for states and security for people are very often different things. Supporting state security forces is often important. But rarely can it be counted as development aid. Instead of focusing on the needs of states, the Trust Fund should focus on projects that help people feel secure in their environment and communities.

A way forward
In some places, the flexible funding that the Trust Fund facilitates allows for local ownership and adaptation, which goes some way to providing an effective response to crises. But it lacks oversight and donors are attempting to exploit its flexibility to promote their state-led, militarisation-focused version of development.

Oxfam is implementing four programmes funded by the EUTF for Africa, in Chad, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Mali. Oxfam and other organisations’ experience and lessons learned can help in directing the instrument’s approach and the development of new projects.
As a way forward, Oxfam’s report stresses that the European Commission and other donors must ensure proper oversight over the Fund’s spending, including establishing effective Parliamentary scrutiny and demanding better justification for the adoption of so-called emergency projects. Emergency projects must be assessed according to factual analysis of what measures will really address the needs of displaced people, not what Europe wants to see as a priority.
Migration is an important part of development at regional, continental, and global level. Donors must recognise that and ensure that development frameworks like the EUTF make migration safer, more orderly, and beneficial for everyone.

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