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Making Waves: Implications of the irregular migration and refugee situation on Official Development Assistance spending and practices in Europe

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65 million people – a number equivalent to the population of France – are presently forcibly displaced worldwide, according to UNHCR. While the majority are refugees in the vicinity of the crises, in their own countries, or in neighboring countries, many have fled to Europe. Following such movements, the year 2015 became a particularly challenging year for European cooperation in the field of migration. At the end of that year the Swedish Migration Agency, Migrationsverket, could sum up the number of asylum seekers to more than 160,000 people, a figure twice the size of the previous year, and three times higher than in 2013.

As a consequence, in-donor refugee costs have increased dramatically in some European countries. This has lead to re-allocations in the national budget, including from the appropriation for development cooperation. In Sweden in-donor refugee costs reported as aid to the OECD/DAC exceeded 20 billion SEK in 2015 – which is more than four times the figure for a normal year such as 2013. Such reallocations may seem natural as development and migration are closely related issues. Nevertheless it implies substantial cuts in the resources for long-term development aid.

In this report, Anna Knoll and Andrew Sherriff focus on the consequences of irregular migration and refugee flows on the volume and orientation of Official Development Assistance, ODA. It is based on five case-studies, of which Sweden is one and the EU is another. The other three are Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Since the subject matter of their study has been in constant change, it has been imperative to set a cutoff date for when to stop collecting empirical data.
This date was set at July 2016. There is a lot to be said about development during the period studied.

The report clearly shows that the increased migration flows have impacted on the volume as well as on the orientation of aid, albeit not always in the ways one may have expected. For example, it is argued that even when excluding in-donor refugee costs ODA has actually increased in all the case studies from 2014 to 2015 (with the exception of Denmark).

Spotlight is put on a number of politically topical, and even pressing, issues. For example, how much of ODA can be re-allocated for in-donor refugee costs? What can actually be categorized as ODA? And what are the consequences for aid effectiveness when aid is used for migration purposes. Providing answers to questions such as these will be particularly important for future policy developments.