The European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa: a tool to stop migration from Africa?

© picture alliance / AP Photo / E. Morenatti

by Greta Chioatto

Since the summer of 2015, the issue of migration from Africa to Europe has been at the top of European political agendas. In order to address the causes of the movements of migrants and irregular migration, the EU set up the 2015-2021 European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF for Africa or EUTF) with a budget of over EUR 5 billion. A new tool has already been set up, the 2021-2027 Neighbourhood, Development, and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) with a budget of EUR 79.5 billion.

As 2021 came to an end, it is interesting to see what has actually been achieved. How were the funds allocated? Have the African countries benefited from the financial aid, or was it mainly a tool for the EU to prevent the arrival of migrants and strengthen border control? It emerges that the strategies adopted and the way the money was spent shows that geopolitical considerations are at the core of the EU interests when formulating policies in the migration field. In this regard, it is pertinent to consider why a short-term tool was implemented to address a long-term issue.

The European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa

Implemented in 2015 during the Valletta Summit on Migration, the EUTF for Africa benefitted 26 African countries across three regions: the Sahel region and Lake Chad, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa.
The Action Plan developed during the summit had several objectives: addressing the causes of instability and irregular migration; contributing to better migration management; improving conflict prevention; promoting economic and employment opportunities; strengthening resilience of rural communities; working closely to refining return, readmission and reintegration agreements.

The EUTF 2021 Annual Report shows that about 88 percent of the contributions came from the EU and about 12 percent from EU Member States and other donors. The largest contributor was Germany, followed by Italy as the second largest one.

The EU desire to stop illegal immigration prevails

More than 250 projects were financed, but the money was not equally distributed.
As detailed illustrated in the EUTF 2021 Annual Report, the region that received the most funding was the Sahel and Lake Chad with EUR 2.217.8 million, followed by the Horn of Africa region with EUR 1.810 million and, finally, North Africa with EUR 907.3 million.

The funds were mainly allocated in the so-called “fragile countries”, meaning the ones along transit migration routes and the ones affected by potential returns. Particular attention was dedicated to countries with the highest emigration rates, which are Sudan, receiving about 9 percent of the total funds, Somalia with 8.6 percent, and Libya with 7.3 percent.

Fig. 2
Reference: Openpolis elaboration of Edjent data.

This reflects the fact that money does not necessarily go to the countries who need it most but rather to the ones that EU Member States think is more convenient. As a matter of fact, it is particularly EU Member States with the highest incomes that have benefitted from EUTF funding allocation, as they have the means of negotiating and, therefore, favoring the realization of projects in line with the EU domestic political agenda.
A research by European Council Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) found that the budget allocation by EU Member States was based more and more on the establishment of return and readmission agreements with African countries.

The allocation of the funds

Looking more in detail at the specific project allocation of the funds, data collected by the European Data Journalism Network and by DW show that, at the end of 2021, the largest share of funds (nearly one-third) was devoted to “addressing the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement”. This category was followed by “improving conflict prevention” (20 percent) and “strengthening resilience” (17.1 percent).

Fig. 3
Reference: EUTF data as of Jan. 2022.

It is important to remember that once the funds are allocated in a certain category, they are no longer available for the implementation of programs that would directly benefit people in need like regular, regional development policy programs, which are of great interest for African countries. In simple words, African countries have no say in this.

To give an example, in the area of job creation and economic development, only 10 percent of the budget was spent. This is made even more shocking by the fact that only 1 percent of the funds are allocated for the creation of legal pathways and opportunities for migration, which would be of relevance to African countries.

The wrong framework

As the name «emergency» fund suggests, the EUTF was not intended to be a long-term initiative due to its purpose of responding to migrations rapidly and effectively.

It is clear that the underlying motive of the creation of the EUTF is the EU’s intention to stop irregular migration, and it does so by financing projects that would more likely reduce the incentive to migrate. Indeed, the projects are assessed based on their effectiveness in reducing “illegal migration to Europe” and improving migration management. This means that the positive evaluation is based on the number of people that do not leave their country of origin, without taking into account the possibility of people being forced to leave their homes due to war, or climate change consequences.

This modus operandi is in contradiction with the standard goals of Development Cooperation (DC). There has been an increasing exploitation of the funds for Official Development Assistance (ODA) directed to protect EU policy objectives rather than focusing on long-term solutions that would create better legal migration opportunities. Evidently, a short-term solution cannot adequately address the root causes of displacement and migration.