Debate

The elimination of development assistance has negative consequences

The growing trend of financing refugee reception with aid can contribute to a dangerous change of attitude, where immigration is not seen as a natural phenomenon that deserves a stable place in a country's domestic policy but instead becomes associated with aid, philanthropy and generosity. That is the opinion of Erik Svanberg, writer and student at the University of St Andrews and Renmin University of China.

At the end of September, it was revealed that former Minister for Development Aid Gunilla Carlsson had received her salary directly from the development assistance budget for four years. Since SEK 20 million had gone straight into Carlsson's wallet instead of aid, this provoked an intense debate. But despite the fact that the situation itself can rightly create outrage, this rather acts as a very clear example of the OECD countries' attitude to aid in general.

The Nordic countries are by far the best when it comes to development aid. As one of the few OECD countries that has actually achieved the 0,7% target, Sweden currently spends 1% of its gross national income on development assistance. And it may seem good and well. But if you look a little more closely, a more nuanced picture emerges. A large part of the money never leaves Swedish soil. The Swedish development assistance budget for the year 2013 shows that more than SEK 4 billion, about 12% of the total budget, is used for costs for the reception of refugees in Sweden.

Since the XNUMXs, settlements in the aid budget for refugee reception have been normal practice. The OECD's Development Assistance Committee, (OECD-DAC), defines what countries can count as Official Development Assistance (ODA). Costs for assistance to arriving refugees in donor countries are part of this definition. What is not clear is how far these costs can be stretched? Is it only for refugees, or all asylum seekers? What can a refugee be estimated to cost? In the end, the donor country decides. As a result, the part of the budget relating to refugee costs has increased dramatically in the last decade.

Despite the fact that Sweden, together with a few other countries, settles a considerably larger part of its aid to refugee costs, this is in line with the general trend among OECD countries. Before 2009, the UK's settlements for refugees were non-existent. In 2011, the low was 20 million pounds. However, in the light of the British Government's efforts to reach the long-awaited 0,7% target, a liberalization of the classification of aid is also noticeable here. The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office admitted in 2010 that it was evaluating opportunities to reclassify parts of its current aid allocations. This is in line with David Cameron's statements regarding the possibility of increasing funding for peacekeeping operations through aid.

However, this trend break in how we look at and use development aid is not without consequences. Let me give three examples:

First, less money goes to those most in need. In the case of Sweden, an increase in development assistance has not meant a real increase in development assistance activities. If the Millennium Development Goals are at the heart of donors' views on aid, the financing of refugee costs is an extremely inefficient way of achieving them. It can easily be said that the actual actions of OECD countries are often in direct contrast to their stated goals. In 2001, the United Kingdom decided to officially break free from tied aid and thus enable international competition over its aid-financed contracts. However, results show that the vast majority of contracts still go to British companies. According to the OECD-DAC, aid costs are 25% higher due to tied aid. These costs affect the quality of development assistance and favor donor countries' companies. The increasingly liberal classification of aid is another way in which recipient countries appear to be pulling the strings.

Secondly, the possibility for border and migration authorities to partake of the aid cake gives rise to the crowd of anti-immigrant parties around Europe, parties that are already enjoying significant momentum.

The rhetoric used by these right-wing extremist parties, such as the Sweden Democrats here at home, often refers to the inefficiency of financing the few refugees who have moved to northern Europe when the money can be used for aid to prevent these refugee flows from occurring at all. In itself, however, this argument is not rooted in reality. First, "immigration-critical" parties generally want to sharply reduce funding for development assistance. Secondly, it is problematic to claim that aid reduces migratory flows to Europe. Thirdly, the perceived contradiction between the financing of refugees at home and development assistance activities has seldom stood in contrast to each other. However, the growing trend of making settlements for refugee reception in the development assistance budget feeds exactly this contradiction. A direct trade-off situation is created between spending money on actual aid activities and spending it on refugees and asylum seekers. This trade-off risks giving legitimacy to the populist, anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Most important to understand, however, is, finally, that a continuing trend of reclassifying refugee costs as aid could potentially externalize the issue of migration. Migration is by its nature both a national and an international issue. Migration affects a country's domestic policy, as well as its foreign policy. Financing more and more the reception of refugees and asylum seekers through development assistance can lead to a dangerous change of attitude. Instead of seeing immigration as a natural phenomenon that deserves a stable place in a country's domestic policy, it is instead associated with aid, philanthropy and generosity. These attributes reinforce the illusion that migration is something donor countries can handle at their own discretion, and if necessary leave outside the door. Sweden's, and other EU countries' aid policies, contribute to this.

Peacekeeping troops, embassy costs, debt relief, refugee reception and ministers' salaries. Will this erosion of development aid raise voices for stricter regulations on what can and cannot be counted as development aid? Or will the trend of increasingly creative settlements continue? In any case, what we do know is that aid does not just mean aid. We must continue to critically examine who wins and loses on this.

Erik Svanberg

Writer at St Andrews Foreign Affairs Review, student in International Relations at the University of St Andrews and Renmin University of China.

This article was originally published in St Andrews Foreign Affairs Review: http://foreignaffairsreview.co.uk/2013/10/reclassifying-aid/

 

References:

OECD-DAC. Aid Statistics. http://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/aidstatisticsbydonorandsector.htm

OECD-DAC. DAC recommending on untying ODA. July 2008. http://www.oecd.org/dac/41707972.pdf

OECD-DAC. ODA Reporting of In-donor Country Refugee Costs. http://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/RefugeeCostsMethodologicalNote.pdf

The Guardian, 2013/03/20. “Aid: How much does the UK spend, why it's important and how it works.” Http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/mar/20/uk-aid-spend-important-works

The Guardian, 2012/09/26. UK aid money: The key datasets you need to know. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/datablog/2012/sep/26/uk-aid-money-key-datasets

The Swedish Parliament. Proposition. 2013/14: 1 Expenditure area 7. 11. http://www.regeringen.se/content/1/c6/22/37/09/c602b5d3.pdf

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