Large inflow of refugees and migrants has big implications for European foreign aid and development cooperation, new study reveals


Share Button

The large inflow of refugees and irregular migration has had a big impact on foreign aid spending and development cooperation of a number of European countries and the European Commission, a new study by the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) has found.

As European leaders prepare to meet at the migration summit in Malta on Friday (3 February), the authors of the study caution that the rapid increase in European foreign aid spending and changing priorities caused by the refugee crisis carry risks for effective development cooperation.

The ECDPM researchers looked at official development assistance (ODA) spending by Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Commission between 2014 and mid-2016. The study, which was commissioned by the Swedish Expert Group for Aid Studies (EBA), is among the first to systematically map the effects of the refugee crisis on European development cooperation.

The study confirms that as the inflow of refugees and irregular migration in Europe grew, foreign aid spending rapidly increased. European collective ODA increased from €59 billion in 2014 to €68 billion in 2015 and ODA increases were recorded in all case studies. Moreover, a much larger share of ODA is now used for protection of refugees in Europe (33% in Sweden, 22% in the Netherlands, 15.5% in Denmark and 17% in Germany in 2015) or to support migrants abroad. This has led to trade-offs and puts significant pressure on development budgets, according to the authors.

Anna Knoll, lead author of the report, said: “We have witnessed rapid changes in the nature and levels of aid and priorities related to development policy. European governments are quick to point out the enormous efforts they have made to back their political statements with spending, but such efforts often come with hidden costs.”

In a number of case studies the authors found that the sourcing of additional finances to address the refugee crisis came at the cost of ongoing and planned development activities. In other cases, it decreased the flexibility and the availability of aid funding for development cooperation. Moreover, the current situation has led to an increased focus on strengthening development and political cooperation with countries that are strategically relevant from a migration perspective.

“While this brings opportunities to support migration aspects as part of the global Sustainable Development Goals, the changes we currently see carry risks and can damage the effectiveness of European development cooperation in the long-term”, said Anna Knoll.

“We will need to closely monitor and evaluate the effects of aid focused on migration and must make sure that sustainable development concerns globally remain at the core of ODA. Not only will we need to address irregular migration and its root causes, we will also need to invest in innovative solutions, institutions and systems for a world that continues to be mobile.”

In this short video, author Anna Knoll talks about the key findings of the study:

Notes to the editors

The European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) is an independent think tank working on international cooperation and development policy in Europe and Africa. Since 1986 it provides independent research, advice and practical support to policymakers and advisors on issues related to peace and security, migration, food security, climate change, trade and economic transformation, European external affairs and governance in Africa.

For more information or to arrange an interview with the authors of the report, please contact Valeria Pintus via

European external affairsMigration