Development Funds for Migration Control

How the so-called fight against causes of displacement undermines the principles of development cooperation.

Recently, the control and prevention of migratory movements seems to have become the core mission of German and European development cooperation. Every effort is being made to permanently reduce the number of refugees and migrants coming to Europe. But shouldn't development cooperation really concentrate on improving people's living conditions?

Funds for “Combatting Causes of Displacement”

The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) was granted further funds for the so-called “Combatting Causes of Displacement”. For 2017, the Ministry had a budget of about 8,5 Billion Euros – more than ever before. The European Union, as well, is attempting to demonstrate its capacity for action in the face of large-scale displacement and migratory movements. Amongst other measures, the EU placed 2,5 Billion Euros at the disposal of the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (Trust Fund for Stability and Addressing Root Causes of Irregular Migration and Displaced Persons in Africa).This Fund is supposed to finance projects that fight “irregular” migration and “control” displacement and migratory movements.

The already implemented measures include standard developmental policy projects as well as training and educational programs for border and police forces. Further actions include those targeting “traffickers”, support for non-European states regarding “migration management” and projects on “reintegrating” deported asylum seekers. Finally, theCompacts with Africa, introduced in the run-up to the G20 summit, are supposed to motivate private enterprises to make targeted investments on the African continent. These investments in turn are supposed to contribute to the creation of income possibilities and thus – so the theory – provide alternatives to migration for the local population.

Basic Principles of Development Cooperation Begin to Totter

The objective of all these measures is to quickly reduce the number of displacement and migratory movements to Europe. Refugees and migrants are supposed to stay in or near their countries of origin. Security and Migration policy interests are thus beginning to enter the sphere of development cooperation more and more, which could permanently alter its character and threaten its legitimacy.

A development cooperation under the primacy of containing refugee and migratory movements also waters down long-held EU key principles, such as the value placed on principles of partnership when it comes to choosing and creating development programs or the ownership of the receiving countries. Development Aid resources are partly instrumentalized and used as a lever to make non-European countries collaborate on managing and controlling displacement and migration. This, as various organizations criticize, often is to the detriment of the local population and the states themselves.

European Mobility is an Achievement, African Mobility is a Problem

To the most part, mobility and migration are the norm in Europe, while the freedom of movement of workers is seen as a political achievement. In addition, millions of EU citizens live in countries outside of Europe, made possible also because their EU passport opens virtually every border. The scientific discourse, as well, has long since recognized that mobility and migration can have positive effects, both for the countries of origin and destination and for the emigrants and their families. One example would be the enormous sums of money transferred by migrants to their countries of origin, sums that already exceed official developmental aid many times over. But also the transfer of knowledge and established international contacts and networks are a significant contribution to the development of regions of origin.

At the very latest since the Valletta Summit, when it comes to “Combatting Causes of Displacement” in states of the South, on the European side the view has prevailed that migration needs to be regarded mainly as a problem – one that can be coped with by ramping up border controls and by increasing economic development.

Investing into “Strategically Important Countries”

Apart from heightened border security measures, the focus is on investment initiatives in order to lower the number of migrants. Through targeted private investments (partly supported by funds allocated for development cooperation, again not exactly a show of its neutrality) and the creation of income opportunities, the motivation for migration is supposed to be decreased. Initiatives like the Marshall Plan with Africa, introduced by the BMZ, or the Compacts with Africathat were discussed within the framework of G20 are two examples of this step.

However, for the most part it is not the countries that suffer most from weak economic development that profit from these measures, but rather those states whose location makes them most strategically important for migration control. Quite apart from this fact, private investments generally flow into countries that are somewhat economically and politically stable, so that the poorest countries would not profit anyhow.

Economic Development Prevents Migration – A False Assumption?

It would, of course, be a welcome development if such programs were really to lead to a more just economic development in countries of the global south and sustainably improve the living situations of the broad populace. However, the approach taken so far is based on the false assumption that economic development leads to less migration. In fact, the opposite can be the case. Meanwhile, it has been proven that economic growth, as well as rising median income up to a certain level, actually encourage migration rather than preventing it. This phenomenon is known as migration hump. While this is not an argument against such programs per se, it does raise doubts about the underlying objective.

“Mobility Management” Threatens Africa's Economic Integration

For many African states as well, mobility and economic development cannot be separated from each other. The states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are working towards more freedom of movement for workers within their economic region, as they have realized that regional economic integration not only requires free movement of capital and goods, but also free movement of their own population. But instead of supporting this within the framework of development cooperation, actually the opposite is the case. Programs for border security und “migration management” measures are being expanded, which makes mobility harder or even prevent it, while sometimes even completely undoing economic integration. Already, the negative results of this policy can be seen in many African states, not just regarding socioeconomic aspects, but also pertaining their role in the erosion of democracy and rule of law.

Shift the Emphasis to the Positive Effects of Migration

The future form of the European economic cooperation for the area of migration therefore requires a fundamental shift in perspective. This would require, among other things, an acknowledgement of the positive effects migration has on development. Further this shift in perspective need  to take into account the concerns of partner states and the emigrants themselves when it comes to the creation of corresponding programs.

If the causes of (forced) displacement and migration are to be tackled, actors must first acknowledge the limits of development cooperation. It is true that it can prevent violent conflicts through means of civil conflict prevention and democracy promotion. During large-scale refugee movements, development cooperation can also support the integration efforts of affected persons and host countries. However, it is not within its purview to deter refugees or migrants from seeking safety or better living conditions in other countries.



Nils Utermöhlen, Project Manager Politics Department and Sophia Wirsching, Consultant for Migration and Development at Bread for the World – Protestant Development Service.

Contact: Felix Braunsdorf, Consultant for Migration and Development

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Events, projects, analyzes and background information:

  • Displacement: Worldwide, more people are leaving their countries of origin than ever before.
  • Migration: Migration is to be expected in an interconnected and globalized world.
  • Integration: How do we want to live together in a diverse society with peace, safety and equal participation for all?

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