‘New’ funding for refugees must really mean extra money

In 2015, €9.7bn of the development assistance budget was used to deal with the influx of people into the EU, instead of paying for projects in those countries from where asylum-seekers had fled, says Jorge Moreira da Silva.

THE Syrian refugee crisis has focused attention on the management of the flow of people during times of crisis.

But poor countries may be paying a large, indirect price for rich countries’ efforts.

A substantial portion of the costs associated with the influx of refugees and asylum-seekers, in some European countries, is being reported as official development assistance (ODA). That’s the measure the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) uses to track international aid spending. This reduces the ODA available to launch, sustain, or expand economic development projects in poor countries.

In 2015, the European Union’s DAC member states spent €9.7bn of their ODA budgets on 1.2m asylum-seekers in their own countries. By comparison, they spent €3.2bn of ODA in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan, the top five countries from which those asylum-seekers had fled.

The rule enabling donors to report so-called ‘in-donor’ refugee costs as ODA was introduced in the OECD-DAC Statistical Reporting Directives back in 1988. At first, few DAC donors took advantage of it. From 2010 to 2015, however, the share of total ODA reported as in-donor spending more than tripled, from 2.7% to 9.1%.

The DAC is working to establish clearer rules for using ODA to cover in-donor refugee costs. It has established a Temporary Working Group on Refugees and Migration to determine whether donors are targetting their assistance in the right way, in the right place, and at the right time. We expect to be able to communicate the results of this work in July.

The global attention that the Syrian crisis has focused on refugee flows, and on associated humanitarian needs, is positive.

Yet, Syrians constitute only a small portion of the more than 21m people worldwide listed as ‘refugees’ by the United Nations Refugee Agency (the UNHCR categorises 65m people as ‘forcibly displaced’).

And while the spotlight today is on asylum-seekers in Europe, most refugees — 86% —remain in developing countries, close to the countries they have fled. Uganda, for example, took in more refugees from South Sudan in 2016 than the total number of migrants that crossed the Mediterranean into Europe in the same period.

Every day, 40,000 people are forced to flee from conflict and persecution. Many more leave their homes in search of a safe and dignified future. An increasing number of these people are displaced for 20 years or more. And many are left behind, displaced within their own countries, living in extreme insecurity and poverty.

Standing by idly, while others live in fear, is not humane. Yet countries like Uganda, which for decades have generously hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees, increasingly see the principles of tolerance and protection they uphold undermined in the global north.

Wealthy countries understandably manage their own refugee populations and reassure their own citizens. Yet the right to asylum is universal and development co-operation must not, under any circumstances, be used for containment.

Refugee situations are not new. Together, the top five countries of origin have generated 10.2m refugees over the past 25 years. The numbers are staggering, but the challenge they represent is by no means insurmountable.

Development aid can address the longer-term, socioeconomic dimensions of displacement, lending support to ensure that refugees are included in national and local development plans.

It can help address the root causes of forced displacement by focusing efforts on reducing poverty and inequality, strengthening peace-building, and improving access to justice. The OECD’s temporary working group will seek to identify and deliver better solutions for refugees.

The conditions facing forced migrants today stand in stark contrast to international commitments, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, which strive to ‘leave no-one behind.’

Failure to address these issues also threatens the international solidarity that underpins the global development agenda.

Developed and developing countries need to work together. They must leave no ambiguity about the right to seek asylum and the responsibility to protect those who exercise it.

We need to ensure that ‘new’ funding means extra money, rather than the redirection of funds.

And, above all, programmes for refugees — including responses within our own borders — must have human rights at their core.

  • Jorge Moreira da Silva, formerly Portugal’s minister of environment and energy, is director of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate.
  • Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.

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