Africa: EU uses development funds for migration control

Military equipment, police tranining, centers for repatriated migrants and computerized systems for the collection of digital fingerprints that will guarantee, in Europe, the identification of the country of origin of migrants therefore making easier their expulsion. The objective: control the migrations from Africa and reinforce for this scope the governments of the countries of origin and transit of those who would want to cross the Mediterranean.

After more than a year from its creation, the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa has allocated over 600 million euro for these types of projects. The Trust Fund has been criticized because it finances projects in countries with dictatorship and regimes accused of crimes against humanity, like Sudan and Eritrea. Following the mobilization of Ngo’s like Oxfam and Concord, the European Parliament also denounced that the Trust Fund – 2.8 million as of today – has been filled up with money funded by the Union for the fight against poverty. Which, this way, risks to be emptied.

The Relocation of the Funds

One of the first acts of the European Agenda on migration was the convocation of a Euro-African summit, in October 2015 at Valletta. In such occasion, the leaders of the European countries created the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, an instrument outside of the control of the European Parliament, with the objective of rapidly financing initiatives to “confront the deep-seated causes of irregular migration.”

Today, the Trust Fund has an endowment of 2.8 billion euro, almost 95% taken from instruments of the Union devoted to cooperation and humanitarian aid, in particular, from the European Development Fund, while only 152 million euro are from funds freshly added by the countries of the Union. The 2016 Report of the Trust Fund lists 106 projects approved to date for almost 1.6 billion euro. They are principally managed by public agencies of cooperation for the development of European countries and international organizations like IOM and UNHCR, but also in some cases, by private agencies like the subsidiary of the French Ministry of the Interior, Civipol.

The refusal of the Community of Sant’Egidio

In Mali, country in which development is so tied to the remittances of migrants (800 million dollars arrived solely in 2016 through official channels) to have a ministry for Malians abroad, the Trust Fund has approved a project of 25 million euro to consolidate the civil status registry that anticipates the creation of a computer archive of biometric data, or in other words digital fingerprints and other biological characteristics “to be used – one reads in the action document – for the identification of Malian migrants abroad in irregular situations.”

That is, to favor repatriation. The same project will be realized in Senegal with 28 million euro. In both countries, the funds will be managed by the Belgian development cooperatin agency and by Civipol, which will take care of the computerization of the archive. The Community of Sant’Egidio, which initially had agreed to work as a consultant for the two projects, told us that they have withdrawn their adhesion. This happened because the initiative for the creation of the civil status registries, presented for various African countries, was only approved for Mali and Senegal, where Sant’Egidio does not have a sufficient presence on the territory, and not in Burkina Faso where the program for free child registration of the Community would have need of a new impulse.

We do not know why the project was approved by the Trust Fund in Mali and Senegal and not in Burkina Faso where Sant’Egidio would need the money to continue its work in favor of the protection of children’s rights against violations such as child marriages. We know, however, that unlike Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal are (together with Nigeria, Ethiopia and Niger) countries considered a priority by the EU for the  stipulation of agreements within the Migration Partnership Framework.

The critics of the European Parliament

“This way, one risks concentrating the aid towards the countries geographically interested by the routes towards Europe, forgetting the poorer countries”: Elly Schlein, Italian member of the European Parliament, claims in regard to the Trust Fund. “The objective of the cooperation for development is only one: the elimination of poverty and the reduction of inequality. I would like to understand how projects that are all aimed towards border management can reduce poverty and inequality. It seems to me that vice versa they risk further growth”, she says Schlein, who leads a working group on Migration and Refugee in the Development Committee of the European Parliament, adds. 7

Schlein’s affirmations are shared by the European Parliament, which has criticized the Commission for having “subtracted allocations for the objectives and the principles of the fundamental acts in order to distribute them through the Trust Fund,” denouncing how this represents “a violation of the financial rules and compromises the long term strategies of the Union.” In essence, the Trust Fund, though handling several billion euro of public funds, is not subject to the control of the democratically elected organ of the Union.

To the question posed to the European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, his spokesperson answered affirming that “the European Union recognizes a tie between security and development” and that the support, as of now, concretizes in different ways, including the formation of law enforcement and their equipment “with the exclusion of lethal equipment.” In reference to the relocation of the funds, he objects, “The operation Trust Fund is in line with our procedures” and he lays claim to the transparency of the Trust Fund, citing the annual published report.

The Discrepancies in the Report of the Trust Fund

The interventions of the Trust Fund are distinguished on the basis of four priorities: the first two, or rather “economic development” and “resilience,” require actions linked to the fight against poverty, like the creation of jobs and the offer of aid to the populations in difficulty, but the objectives 3 “management of migration” and 4 “governance” – that absorb almost 40% of the resources of the approved projects – refer to interventions in favor of repatriation and the fight against irregular migration. Analyzing the 2016 Report of the Trust Fund, we noticed that the total per objective of the projects’ amounts, according to our calculations, did not correspond to the tables published in the first part.

Underlining this discrepancy to the team of the Trust Fund, we were told that this happens because the funds destined to projects having more than one objective have been considered by the authors of the report as corresponding wholly to the first objective cited; this way, in the report, the total of objectives 3 and 4 on migration management, results lower in respect to the results that we obtained dividing equally among the objectives.

The Trust Fund and the new routes

Philippe Renault, director of the French agency of cooperation (AFD) – that in Niger manages along with Civipol the project “Support to justice, security and the management of the frontiers” worth 30 million euro – wants to underline what distinguishes the actions of the cooperative agency from those of the private company, “We work towards the strengthening of the Nigerian agency for the fight against irregular migration while Civipol supports the police and law enforcement.”

“Unlike Civipol,” he adds, “we put our funds at the disposition of the Nigerian government through the responsible ministry.” The project, that allocates 20 million euro to the government as “support to the budget”, 6 to AFD and 4 to Civipol, aims to apply law 36/2015 against human trafficking. Issued by the Nigerian government, after pressure from Europe, this law in the last months, on one side, has resulted in a reduction of departures towards Libya from the Nigerian region of Agadez, also called the “door of the desert” for its strategic position along the routes of the Sahara, on the other, in the establishment of dangerous alternatives that pass through Mali and Chad.

“The alternative routes, created after the closing of the traditional passages, avoid urban centers and are therefore more dangerous,” adds Olivier Neola, head of EUCAP Sahel Niger, the mission of the European Commission to assist and sustain the security forces in the country. “Thanks to the experience we have accumulated on the territory, we collaborate on the projects of the Trust Fund for security,” Neola affirms. This happened for the project worth 41.6 million euro for the creation of “rapid response units” within the law enforcement  of five countries of the Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad) managed by the Spanish cooperative agency FIIAPP. According to the tentative budget that was published, 28 million euro are destined for the equipment of law enforcement.

Meanwhile, the recommendation of the Parliament on the necessity of not changing the scope of the funds already allocated seems to have been ignored by the Commission, that in September presented the project of a European Fund for Sustainable Development, to promote private investments in the countries with whom there is an interest in signing agreements, to facilitate migration control and repatriation. It is a fund of 1 billion euros managed by the European Investment Bank, that would receive a contribution from the European Union of 750 million in cash for the guarantee. Of the 750 million euro in cash expected to form it, 400 of which should to be taken, once more, from the European Development Fund. This way, the Fund established in 1957 to favor the escape from poverty of the ex colonies, which has become the principal European instrument for the fight against poverty (30.5 billion euro in the period 2014-2020), is always more often used to keep citizens of these countries away from the European Fortress.

By Ludovica Jona

This investigation report – Diverted Aid – has been funded by the European Journalism Centre (EJC) via its “Innovation in Development Reporting Grant“.