No minister – our billions in foreign aid make it more likely migrants come here

Published by The Daily Mail (11th August, 2015)

With every passing day, it becomes harder to have confidence in the Government’s flailing response to the tide of humanity seeking salvation in Britain and across Europe, when there has been such appalling lack of leadership.

Take the flip-flopping Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. Last week, he strolled out of an emergency meeting on the migration crisis and claimed that the Government had ‘got a grip on the crisis’. He was almost instantly slapped down by the Prime Minister, who said there was lots more work needed to improve security as events in Calais continued to dominate the headlines.

Now Mr Hammond is trying to sound tough, insisting Europe faces an invasion from ‘marauding’ migrants. ‘The gap in standards of living between Europe and Africa means there will always be millions of Africans with the economic motivation to try to get to Europe,’ he observed.

To me, this ramping up of the rhetoric sounds like an attempt to divert attention from the Government’s failure to find solutions to the social, political and humanitarian crisis that is confronting Europe.

Yet if there is one consistent strand in their cack-handed response, it is to offer us reassurance that the state’s generosity with our taxes through foreign aid will — ultimately — stem the flow of migrants.

It is for this reason that Philip Hammond talks about the gap in living standards, just as David Cameron discussed the need to tackle the causes of migration rather than the consequences. ‘That’s what we are using our aid budget for,’ he claims.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, says targeted support will ‘help African countries to develop economic and social opportunities so that people want to stay’. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, says the £12 billion aid giveaway can ‘discourage’ mass migration.

In other words, they argue that if you send torrents of aid to help make a nation more economically and politically secure, then its previously impoverished people will be happy to remain at home and share in that success.

Yesterday, on Radio 4’s Today programme, the head of Oxfam UK backed the organisation’s state paymasters. He argued that Britain’s ‘aid budget is making a major contribution’ to keeping people from leaving their own countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Unfortunately, this just reveals how depressingly little he and the political class understand about international development and the root causes of migration.

For the more people are lifted out of poverty, the more they are going to have the resources to escape their homelands and board those lethal boats across the Mediterranean in search of peace and prosperity.

Politicians say we should do more to stop the cruel people traffickers who charge a small fortune to send people across the sea — often to their deaths. Yet those gangs are, however callously, responding to demand from people who have saved enough to pay those exorbitant fees.

This is why the migration issue is going to get bigger as the world keeps getting richer — and ministers would do well to stop duping their voters.

For a welter of studies has shown that migration from Africa and Asia increases as household incomes there rise.

Very poor people, after all, do not have the resources to cross continents. ‘The poorest cannot afford to leave,’ said Sir Paul Collier, the Oxford economics professor who has become the Government’s guru on this issue.

Nor do they own television sets that constantly display alluring images of wealthy Western lifestyles, computers that facilitate websites where the safest routes to Europe are debated or the latest smartphones with online forums on how to breach borders and avoid the worst gangsters.

This explains why many of those risking their lives to reach Europe are from the best educated and richest segments of their societies. These are also the people with the skills, ambition and languages to succeed abroad — which is why those at Calais include students, academics, engineers and entrepreneurs.

Last month, I joined the rescue of 414 people from a sinking boat off the Libyan coast. Most were refugees from carnage and chaos in the Middle East, though some were simply fleeing poverty and in search of better lives — just as we might do in their tough circumstances.

Afterwards, many told me they spent about $1,000 to board that stinking deathtrap; others had spent a similar amount crossing the Sahara Desert beforehand. This is a significant financial risk for families, especially when you consider that one-quarter of the world’s population lives in poverty on an income of less than $2 a day.

As incomes rise, more people are going to have the funds to gamble on getting to Europe.

Net migration from sub-Saharan Africa has doubled in five years — one more sign of the region’s rapid economic expansion. It should be added, however, that most movement is within the continent, leaving many African nations with their own immigration concerns.

Contrary to the claims of Government ministers, the world’s least developed nations have the lowest comparative rates of migration.

But this changes as countries develop, with rates of emigration rising sharply. By far the biggest migration rates are from countries defined as having ‘high human development’, which includes the likes of Iran, Mexico, Sri Lanka and Turkey.

People here are almost three times more likely to leave than those who are living in the least developed countries, since they have the means and often the incentives to move.

So ministers should stop pretending their foreign aid donations of our money provide some kind of sacred panacea to the problems of migration. All they are doing is misleading the public.

In fact, those golden rivers of aid too often fuel the conflict, corruption and poor governance that also drives millions of people from their homes in the developing world.

Britain is not alone in making false arguments that aid will stem migration. Earlier this year, the EU approved an £87 million package for Eritrea on the grounds that development might stem the massive exodus from the country.

Eritrea — along with war-torn Syria — provided most of the migrants crossing the Mediterranean last year, since they were fleeing the most repressive regime in Africa.

It is simply beyond belief that the European Union, along with other bodies also heavily funded by Britain, is propping up a place that has been compared with North Korea for the scale of its human rights abuses.

At least Mr Cameron is rightly focusing on trying to eradicate corruption in the countries where we send millions in aid — though that does not answer the question of why Britain continues to support some of the most repressive countries in the world.

Our politicians would do well to stop hoodwinking the electorate by pretending the patronising aid giveaway offers any kind of solution to the migrant crisis, which is fast becoming one of the defining issues of the modern age.

Unfortunately, all these policies really reveal is the poverty of the Government’s response to a crisis of globalisation that only looks likely to get more intense.

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