The European Union could be breaching international rules by using aid intended to promote development in Africa to stem migration into Europe, according to a new report by Oxfam.
The report published Thursday reveals that six out of 16 EU-funded migration actions in Niger, Libya and Tunisia worth a total €667 million potentially breach the aid rules set out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Oxfam's findings suggest the EU is increasingly diverting its development aid to pursue a domestic strategy of deterring migration, undermining human rights and welfare.
The EU allocates 10% of its landmark €79.5 billion international aid package to migration-related activities. At least 93% of funds must promote development and welfare in developing countries, in compliance with the OECD's aid criteria.
But the Oxfam report suggests a third of EU-funded migration actions in three African countries violate these rules.
"EU aid is going towards supporting the coastguards despite their extremely poor human rights track record," Stephanie Pope, Oxfam EU migration expert, told Euronews.
"In Libya, the coastguard only a few months ago fired shots at rescue ships attempting to help people in distress at sea. The Tunisian coastguard has been reported to steal engines of migrant boats, as well as refusing to help people in distress at sea contrary to its international obligations," she added.
The OECD says any actions that "neglect the rights of forcibly displaced persons and migrants" do not qualify as aid.
Responding to the report on Thursday, a European Commission spokesperson refuted the claim that money destined to fight poverty is being diverted to fight migration.
"Most of our actions are actually helping to address the root causes of migration," the spokesperson said.
Of the eight migration activities analysed by Oxfam in Niger, a country often used as a corridor for migrant smugglers between sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb, only one was found to support safe and legal migration.
In Libya, none of the migration projects analysed foster safe and regular pathways, Oxfam says.
Funding 'complex' to trace
The NGO also says that tracking the EU's multiple financial mechanisms to stem migratory flows from Africa to Europe, including as part of the controversial migration deal struck recently with Tunisia, is increasingly complex.
The deal, signed between European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and Tunisian President Kais Saied in July, has been criticised for its questionable legal basis and lack of democratic oversight.
The European Parliament has blasted the deal for failing to recognise mounting evidence of Tunisian authorities’ abusive treatment of sub-Saharan migrants, including illegal pushbacks, racial hatred and human rights violations.
The report calls on the Parliament to hold the bloc's executive to account on its migration actions, warning that the EU's increasing preoccupation with migratory flows is eclipsing crucial development aid in Africa.
Oxfam also says the EU is missing out on opportunities to open safe migration routes and harness the development advantages of migration.
"If the EU increasingly redirects these already very scarce development funds towards its own misguided migration interests, the risk is that there's even less money available to give these countries the support they urgently need right now," Pope said.