Where next for migration and development in Afghanistan?

Concern over irregular migration has for years seen EU policymakers utilize both ‘stick’ and ‘carrot’ to secure cooperation from origin countries in migration management. As the EU migration ‘crisis’ reached its apex in 2015, calls to link aid and migration intensified.

Yet, the emergence of programs explicitly linking aid and humanitarian budgets to migration management objectives – the EU Trust Fund for Africa funding some of the most prominent projects in this area – have done little to resolve questions around how aid conditionality might look on the ground, and how they interact with other development and foreign policy objectives.

A new brief from Seefar, Linking aid and migration: what are we targeting? discusses the profound practical, ethical and political implications that come with such an approach.

The Brussels Conference on Afghanistan at the beginning of October 2016 saw EU and Afghan governments commit to increase returns and tackle irregular migration as part of wider peacebuilding, reconstruction, and development efforts in the country.

While the intent to marry development and migration objectives is evident, how this will work in practice remains unclear. The EU has already denied that it intends to tie aid budgets to compliance with returns and counter-smuggling efforts, although many on the ground and in capitals interpret the additional money in this way.

We identify five development approaches to migration management issues, presuming that a donor is driven at least in part by an ambition to reduce outward flows of irregular migration:

  1. Leverage: using donor aid funds to reach political bargains on aspects of migration management.
  2. Horizon: taking a longer-term view that development funding will gradually see conditions at origin improve, de facto reducing irregular emigration.
  3. Immediate: taking a shorter-term view that development funding can reduce pressures to emigrate. This can include job creation, food aid, and shelter programming.
  4. Regulation: funding development assistance programs that directly improve the receiving country’s capacity to manage migration, such as funding the refugee agency to better manage returns.
  5. Focus: targeting development assistance at particular communities that produce disproportionate numbers of irregular migrants. This would require a high level of targeting perhaps at odds with development donors’ mandate.

The EU is leaning towards numbers 3, 4, and 5 on this list. But each of these carry their own complications, not least because they will affect segments of Afghanistan’s diverse population differently. Ultimately, compromises between development and migration objectives are inevitable. The process to reach a common understanding on these issues is only just beginning. 

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