EU money spent on migration in Tunisia, Libya and Niger is likely breaking its own and international aid rules, according to a new report from NGO Oxfam.
Oxfam’s 68-page report released on Thursday (September 21) comes as the European Commission plans to spend some 105 million euros on monitoring Tunisia’s borders as part of a controversial deal signed over the summer.
“There is a predominant focus on projects that fund border management, as well as return and reintegration as they call it – terms that are essentially a pretext to control and contain migration,” said Stephanie Pope, co-author of the report.
The report also criticizes the European Commission for its lack of documentation when it comes to examining projects in detail.
Some of the EU-funded projects do not have public procurement contracts, while others are vaguely formulated.
This obfuscation makes it difficult to hold the European Commission accountable when it comes to deploying aid money, Oxfam says.
“They are their own watchdog and it’s clearly not working at the moment,” Pope said, noting that the commission needs to create a public database of all its aid-related projects.
The package highlights how the Commission spends money from its European Neighborhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI). The NDICI has a budget of 79.5 billion euros, of which 10% is devoted to migration.
Aid must follow rules established by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international organization based in Paris.
These rules stipulate that aid must promote the economic development and well-being of developing countries. It also states that activities that neglect the rights of forcibly displaced people and migrants are not considered aid.
A special coordination group was created by the commission to examine how funds are spent on migration, but only representatives of the interior and foreign ministries of EU states have access to it.
Almost everyone, including the European Parliament, is left in the dark.
Despite these obstacles, Oxfam was still able to evaluate some 16 migration-related activities in the three countries, worth a total of around €1 billion.
And they found that more than a third of them posed risks to international aid rules because they aimed to restrict migration to Europe.
This includes funding surveillance equipment and vessels for coast guards in Libya and Tunisia, in light of well-documented human rights violations.
Such abuses would also constitute a violation of NDICI spending rules, raising questions of policy coherence in international development.
In other words, even though the commission is aware of the abuses and violations committed in Libyan detention centers, it continues to provide boats to the Libyan coast guard. The Libyans then intercept people at sea and send them to detention centers.
The European Commission announced earlier this year that it had succeeded in securing the release from detention centers of 453 registered refugees and asylum seekers with the help of the United Nations refugee agency.
But at the same time, it finances emergency evacuations from Libya.
For its part, the commission denies any wrongdoing.
“We have a holistic migration policy that seeks to undermine the criminal activities of migrant smugglers,” said Dana Spinant, its deputy spokesperson.
They also claim that their funding follows OECD guidelines and that they adhere to transparency rules by publishing annual reports on their spending.
“Most of our actions actually help address the root causes of migration,” another commission spokesperson said.
The commission also says its policy in Libya respects the “Do No Harm” principle.
He says a report written by an anonymous contractor confirmed this to them. But when asked for a copy of the report, she refused. He also won’t say who wrote the report.