132.Migration is central to the UK’s two major international strategies: the UK Aid Strategy and the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review, both released in 2015. In both documents, the term ‘migration’ refers to both irregular migration and forced displacement. The focus is predominantly on refugees and migrants travelling to Europe and the implications this has for the UK. Similar versions of the following paragraph appear in both strategies:
Instability, extremism and conflict in the Middle East and Africa have displaced millions of people, with many having sought to travel to Europe. It has created a serious humanitarian challenge, which is creating pressures across the European Union.
ICAI’s 2017 review of ‘The UK’s aid response to irregular migration in the central Mediterranean’ highlighted that, “UK government respondents often mentioned they were under considerable pressure to come up with a portfolio of programming that would quickly and substantially reduce irregular migration into Europe”. However, this focus appears misplaced when dealing with forced displacement. As Professor Laura Hammond told us:
[ … ] the vast majority of displacement that occurs within the developing world generally, and particularly in Africa, stays within the region. It does not move towards Europe. The numbers of people moving to Europe is very small compared with the overall populations of displaced people.
Organisations have expressed concern that the focus on Europe detracts from tackling the root causes of forced displacement. ActionAid UK told us: “The emphasis on preventing the movement of refugees towards Europe is short-sighted, unlikely to address the symptoms of deep-rooted power imbalances, structural inequalities or underlying drivers of conflict and climate change.”
133.Similar concerns have been expressed about the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, also founded in 2015. The UK contributes to the EU Trust Fund both directly and through its contributions to the EU budget and the European Development Fund. Care International allege that: “EU Trust Funds, though funded by official development assistance, were not established with a vision to reduce poverty or meet humanitarian needs or human rights, but to stem migration flows to the EU.” Professor Laura Hammond corroborated this, stating: “Clearly there was, if you look at the documents that established the trust fund, a concern for wanting to reduce the numbers of people moving into Europe.” However, she emphasised that this was not the only goal of the Trust Fund. A recent Oxfam report concluded that, the EU Trust Fund “provides much needed support to displaced people”, but that it must “ensure that short-term interests do not jeopardize the long-term objectives of development, stability, poverty eradication and the protection of rights.”
134.The UK Aid Strategy and the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review were both published at the height of the European refugee crisis—2015—the same year that the EU Trust Fund for Africa was established. The context clearly influenced the direction of those strategies and the fund at that time.
135.Whilst it is understandable that the UK wishes to control the numbers of economic migrants travelling to Europe; there is a risk that this objective is clouding the primary aim of the UK’s aid work in this area, which should be to protect vulnerable people on the move, including refugees.
136.Where there is mixed migration with refugees and migrants using the same routes, as is the case on the central Mediterranean route from Africa, the environment is incredibly complex and the UK’s work in this region is not aided by competing priorities and unclear objectives at the top of Government.
137.Programmes funded by UK aid should be driven by the primary objective of protecting people on the move, including the most vulnerable refugees, and not by the desire to control migration to Europe. This must be reflected in all the UK’s work in this area, including through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, where the UK should use its position to push for progressive programmes, which prioritise protecting and supporting the most vulnerable.
138.The UK Aid Strategy prioritises addressing the root causes of migration—again, this definition includes irregular migration and forced displacement—with a focus on conflict prevention and encouraging prosperity in developing countries. According to ICAI’s 2017 report, the National Security Council’s unpublished Illegal Migration Strategy also sets out, amongst its goals, “addressing the root causes and enablers of forced displacement and illegal migration.” However, it is clear that there is a gap in the evidence base on what causes people to move, as highlighted clearly in ICAI’s 2017 review. This raises questions about the effectiveness of the UK’s approach, if the evidence is not there to substantiate it. For example, although much of the work in this area is predicated on the assertion that economic development in developing countries would deter people from moving, this is far from the only driver. One area where it is suggested the UK should certainly focus more of its efforts is in risk assessment and conflict prevention, to try and tackle the insecurity and violence that forces people from their homes, as can be seen clearly in the context of situations like South Sudan and the DRC. Marta Foresti of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) also warned us that the UK must be cautious, “not to give aid in exchange for the promise to curb irregular migration … . We know that does not work… it risks, if anything, having the opposite effect: as low-income countries develop, more people tend to migrate, in the short term at least.”
140.DFID should continue to invest in creating a body of evidence to underpin its work on addressing the root causes of forced displacement. This should be separate, but linked to, work establishing the root causes of economic migration as there will be commonalities, but also key differences. Programmes in this area must be based on solid, context-specific evidence to avoid unintended consequences.
141.During the course of the inquiry, we have heard repeated concerns about the human rights implications of some of the UK Government’s work on irregular migration, which has an undeniable impact on refugees and asylum seekers as well. ICAI’s 2017 report cited significant concerns about the potential for the UK’s support for the Libyan coastguard (through the EU) and Libyan detention centres to breach the ‘do no harm’ principle. Whilst the rationale for such work may have been to create better conditions and protections for people on the move, there is a legitimate concern that such programmes are delivering vulnerable migrants and refugees back to Libyan detention centres, where Amnesty International claims migrants and refugees are “routinely exposed to torture, extortion and rape” and Human Rights Watch has reported seeing “large numbers of children, including newborns, detained in grossly unsuitable conditions”. One asylum seeker from Ethiopia is reportedly planning to sue the UK Government for its role in funding the detention centres where he claims to have experienced “physical abuse, extortion and forced labour”. ICAI’s follow-up report from July 2018 stated that DFID had “taken action to strengthen analysis and risk management” in this area, but also noted that, “the cross-government Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) has more to do in this area.” The UK’s involvement in this area remains a cause for concern.
142.We also heard significant concerns about the UK’s commitment to the Khartoum Process. DFID’s evidence states:
DFID works within the broader international frameworks on migration particularly the Valetta Process and both the Khartoum Process covering the Horn of Africa and Europe, and the Rabat Process promoting political cooperation amongst the countries along the migration route between Central, Western, Northern Africa and Europe.
The Khartoum Process involves the EU working closely with Sudan to try and manage migration through its borders. A recent report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Sudan and South Sudan highlighted significant concerns about the human rights risks associated with this partnership. The report detailed the contents of a Freedom of Information request, where UK Government officials:
acknowledge that the human rights concerns raised by NGOs “mirror the risks we have internally highlighted in engaging with the GoS [Government of Sudan].” Indeed, they went further to say that the risks of human rights abuses will be a “huge and enduring challenge” facing the process.
Witnesses to the inquiry cited serious concerns that the Khartoum Process, “deprioritises human rights in favour of meeting migration targets.” These concerns are all the more pressing in light of the recent crackdown on protestors and the media by the Government of Sudan.
143.In both of these cases, one of the major issues is a lack of transparency around the work being carried out. ICAI’s report made this clear with relation to work being carried out in Libya:
The responsible departments provided us with the following details of UK migration-related aid programmes in Libya and the central Mediterranean. We note that they had some difficulty with assembling a list of programmes and that, at the central level, none of the stakeholders we spoke to had a good overview of which departments are engaged in which activities. In the absence of clarity within the UK government, we received some of this information from implementing partners.
Similar concerns around transparency were highlighted with reference to the Khartoum Process. The APPG report states, “the lack of transparency is creating an atmosphere of distrust around the Process as a whole. UK officials noted privately that many of the concerns raised by NGOs were related to the ‘opacity and confusion of the various migration initiatives.’”
144.We remain deeply concerned about the UK Government’s engagement in Libya and Sudan. In its response, we ask that the Government supplies us with the full details of its migration and displacement-related spending in both Libya and Sudan, including all Official Development Assistance (ODA) spend. The Government must also outline precisely what it is doing to safeguard against breaches of the ‘do no harm’ principle in both countries, uphold human rights and protect migrants and refugees at risk.
145.Despite the Minister’s assertions that Departments work well together on migration and displacement, and the existence of various working groups in Government, a substantive cross-government strategy is needed. As Professor Alexander Betts told us:
I urge the UK to develop a national refugee and displacement strategy; one that crucially is coherent across different branches of Government… There is a lot that DFID in particular and the UK Government do that is very good for refugees, but in some cases it risks being undermined or viewed around the world as hypocritical, frankly, when it is in tension with the Home Office’s conduct in relation to refugees and people in need of international protection.
We need a more whole-of-Government approach. We need coherence and we need to ensure that we do not undermine our international reputation in the very good areas that DFID is working by allocating disproportionately large funds to building walls when anchors are likely to be more effective, in the national interest and in support of our values. I urge a joined-up, visible national strategy on refugees and displacement that could unify cross-party consensus and meet a variety of interests and values.
146.UK Government policy on forced displacement is frequently opaque, disconnected and incoherent. DFID encourages host governments to give refugees the right to work, whilst the Home Office significantly limits asylum seekers’ right to work in the UK. DFID pushes for durable solutions for refugees, whilst the Home Office limits the number of resettlement places in the UK. As Alexander Betts told us: “Too often… the Home Office, DFID and, to a lesser extent, the FCO are pulling in different directions relating to refugees and displacement.”
147.There is a real risk that policies pursued by some parts of the UK Government could come into conflict with the work of others. The UK Government’s desire to address migration to Europe, particularly through the Khartoum Process and engagement in Libya, is clearly undermining its commitment to human rights and protecting the most vulnerable refugees. The Government’s approach towards refugees coming to the UK could also be undermining its work supporting refugees in the poorest countries, by setting a poor example for others to follow. It is clear that the Government needs to take a comprehensive look at its policies on migration and forced displacement, in order to address these inconsistencies and formulate a coherent cross-Government approach.
191 HM Treasury and DFID, UK Aid: tackling global challenges in the national interest, Cm9163, November 2015, para 1.18; HMG, National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, Cm9161, November 2015, para 3.13
192 ICAI, The UK’s aid response to irregular migration in the central Mediterranean, 10 March 2017
193 [Professor Laura Hammond]
194 ActionAid UK ()
195 “Linking Aid to Migration: A worrying direction of travel”, Care International, 20 June 2018
198 HM Treasury and DFID, UK Aid: tackling global challenges in the national interest, November 2015
199 ICAI, The UK’s aid response to irregular migration in the central Mediterranean, 10 March 2017, para 3.10
200 ICAI, The UK’s aid response to irregular migration in the central Mediterranean, 10 March 2017
202 Oxfam GB (); Action Against Hunger ()
204 Foreign Affairs Committee, , accessed 15 February 2019
205 “A key principle of good development practice is that aid programmes should avoid causing inadvertent harm to vulnerable individuals, particularly in conflict-affected settings.” (taken from ICAI, The UK’s aid response to irregular migration in the central Mediterranean, 10 March 2017)
206 “Cruel European migration policies leave refugees trapped in Libya with no way out”, Amnesty International, 12 November 2018
207 “No Escape from Hell: EU Policies Contribute to Abuse of Migrants in Libya”, Human Rights Watch, 21 January 2019)
208 “Asylum seeker to sue UK for funding Libyan detention centres”, The Guardian, 20 December 2018
209 ICAI, , June 2018
210 Department for International Development ()
211 APPG on Sudan and South Sudan, Engagement beyond the Centre: an inquiry report on the future of UK-Sudan relations, February 2017, p. 31
212 APPG on Sudan and South Sudan, Engagement beyond the Centre: an inquiry report on the future of UK-Sudan relations, February 2017, p. 31
213 “Omar al-Bashir launches media crackdown as Sudan protests continue”, The Guardian, 23 January 2019
214 ICAI, The UK’s aid response to irregular migration in the central Mediterranean, 10 March 2017, p. 22, Box 10
215 APPG on Sudan and South Sudan, Engagement beyond the Centre: an inquiry report on the future of UK-Sudan relations, February 2017, p. 31
217 ICAI, The UK’s aid response to irregular migration in the central Mediterranean, 10 March 2017, para 4.27 and 4.28
Published: 5 March 2019