13th Apr 2024

EU aid for Africa risks violating spending rules, Oxfam says

  • The EU has handed over vessels to the Libyan coast guard (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)
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EU money spent on migration in Tunisia, Libya, and Niger is likely breaching its own and international aid rules, according to a new report by Oxfam, an NGO.

Oxfam's 68-page report out Thursday (21 September) comes as the European Commission plans to roll out some €105m for Tunisian border surveillance as part of a controversial deal signed over the summer.

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"You see an overriding focus on projects that fund border management, as well as returning and reintegration as they call it — terms which are essentially a guise for controlling and containing migration," said Stephanie Pope, a co-author of the report.

The report also faulted the European Commission for a lack of documentation when it comes to scrutinising projects in detail.

Some of the EU-funded projects lack publicly available procurement contracts, others are vaguely formulated.

The obfuscation makes it difficult to hold the EU commission to account when it comes to rolling out aid money, says Oxfam.

"They are their own watchdog and that's clearly not working right now," said Pope, noting the commission needed to create a public database of all of its aid related projects.

The whole sheds light on how the commission spends money from its EU neighbourhood, development, and international cooperation instrument (NDICI) fund. NDICI has a €79.5bn budget of which 10 percent is dedicated to migration.

The aid needs to follow rules set out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based international organisation.

Those rules say aid should promote economic development and welfare of developing countries. It also says activities that neglect the rights of forcibly displaced persons and migrants do not qualify as aid.

A special coordination group was set up by the commission to scrutinise how the funds are spent on migration, but only representatives from EU states' interior and foreign affairs ministries are given access.

Most everyone else, including the European Parliament, is being left in the dark.

Despite such obstacles, Oxfam was still able to assess some 16 migration related activities in the three countries totalling some €1bn.

And they found that more than one-third posed risks to international aid rules because they aimed to restrict migration towards Europe.

This includes funding surveillance equipment and vessels for coast guards in Libya and Tunisia, in light of well-documented human-rights abuses.

Such abuses would also breach NDICI spending rules themselves, posing policy coherence questions on international development.

In other words, while the commission is aware of the abuses and violations taking place at Libyan detention centres, it still gives the Libyan coast guard boats. The Libyans then intercept people at sea and send them to detention centres.

The EU commission, earlier this year, announced it had successfully secured the release of 453 registered refugees and asylum seeker from the detention centres with the help of the UN refugee agency.

But at the same time, it finances emergency evacuations from Libya.

For its part, the commission denies wrongdoing.

"We have a holistic migration policy which seeks to undermine the criminal business of smugglers of migrants," said Dana Spinant, its deputy chief spokesperson.

They also say that their funding follows OECD guidelines and that they adhere to transparency rules by publishing annual reports on spending.

"Most of our actions are actually helping to address the root causes of migration," said another commission spokesperson.

The commission also says its policies in Libya respect a Do No Harm principle.

It says a report, by an unnamed contractor, has confirmed this to them. But when asked for a copy of the report, it refused. It also won't say who drafted the report.

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