MSF's stand against the EU migration agenda

By Molly Anders 20 June 2016

Médecins Sans Frontières announced it will no longer accept funding from the EU on account of its poor response to the migrant crisis. Photo by: Roberto De Vido / CC BY-NC-ND

World Refugee Day dawns on more than 65 million displaced people globally, a number greater than in any other period in recorded history, according to figures released Monday by the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

But just one day after the European Union’s EU Development Days annual conference in Brussels — where refugees and migration were central issues — Médecins Sans Frontières announced it will no longer accept funding from the EU on account of its poor response to the migrant crisis.

The boycott is a protest of Europe’s strategy to tackle migration, specifically the EU-Turkey deal, which promises 1 billion euros in aid in exchange for Turkey’s acceptance of returned refugees. The deal will see thousands of migrants in Greece forcibly transported back to Turkey.

MSF also takes issue with the EU’s broader “Asylum, Migration and Integration” scheme, including the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, which seeks to strengthen African nations’ institutions using development interventions to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

“For months MSF has spoken out about a shameful European response focused on deterrence rather than providing people with the assistance and protection they need,” said MSF’s International Secretary General Jerome Oberreit in a statement.

The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, which was set up in May, will direct more than 500 million euros over five years through bilateral partnerships with the EU, multilateral partnerships and private sector financing. The first bilateral “compact” as part of the fund was announced by European Commissioner Neven Mimica and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in the days before the European Development Days conference.

“The EU-Turkey deal goes one step further and has placed the very concept of ‘refugee’ and the protection it offers in danger,” the MSF statement said.

MSF will make up the loss of EU support with emergency funds in order to ensure patients are not affected, according to the statement.

MSF received approximately 60 million euros from EU and member states in 2015, and has an annual budget of 750 million euros, according to the most recent MSF annual reports.

Standing up to the EU

Federica Mogherini, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, did not shy away from linking the growing number of displaced people to rising global inequality in her opening speech at the European Development Days conference last week.

“As wealth grows, inequalities are on the rise …Tens of millions are on the move, worldwide, fleeing from war zones or seeking the opportunity of a better life. The history of mankind, and let me be very clear on this, the history of Europe, is a history of migrations — but the scale and scope of the current phenomenon are totally unprecedented; and this is a global phenomenon we need to tackle together,” she said.

“But I am not here to tell you how gloomy our perspectives are,” she went on. “We were sharing, with the Secretary-General [of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon] just now, that if you are not an optimist you cannot do this job.”

But not all are so optimistic.

Europe’s efforts to tackle migration and the fund in particular are both self-interested and insufficient to address the needs of those seeking passage to Europe in order to escape extreme poverty and conflict, the MSF statement said. Taking funds from the EU would simply “contradict the aims of the organization and the needs of [MSF] patients.”

“Last week the European Commission unveiled a new proposal to replicate the EU-Turkey logic across more than 16 countries in Africa and the Middle East. These deals would impose trade and development aid cuts on countries that do not stem migration to Europe or facilitate forcible returns, rewarding those that do,” read the statement.

MSF is emerging as an increasingly vocal critic of the global humanitarian system, and last month signaled its frustration with the global response to migration when it refused to attend the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey. The decision not to attend WHS came in the wake of the bombing of an MSF hospital by allied forces in Kunduz, Afghanistan, which killed 44 MSF medical staff and patients.

The charity also broke ranks with other mainstream international humanitarian organizations when it set up a presence in the "jungle” refugee camp in Calais, France, early in 2015.

Because the French government has yet to officially declare the presence of more than 5,000 displaced people in Calais a humanitarian disaster, organizations specializing in humanitarian relief lacked the mandate to work there. MSF, citing camp residents’ lack of access to basic medical care, maintained their presence in the camp using emergency funds until the French government established a state-funded medical facility in the camp in March 2016.

Silent solidarity

While MSF stands alone in its boycott of the fund, other leaders in the humanitarian sector share their objections.

Winnie Byanyima, head of Oxfam International, said the EU's migration policy shows that “Europe is being tempted to support repressive regimes that it has been in the past working with only at arm's length,” she told Devex.

The EU has announced forthcoming migration compacts with Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan, among others.

“Europe is literally trying to outsource its responsibility for border controls and making it the responsibility of developing countries using aid,” she said. “That's contradictory to the purposes of development cooperation by the very foundation of the Lisbon Treaty.”

Byanyima, while critical of the policies, said she still sees a crucial role for implementers such as Oxfam for influencing how the deal affects the most vulnerable.

“The diversion of aid for these purposes is wrong and I'm here to say to Europe: Look, you’ve been the leaders. You've been doing it right. Stay there. Don't walk away from human rights, don't divert aid,” she said.

Whether or not other humanitarian organizations are tempted to follow MSF's lead, the influential charity's decision uncovers a tension between policymakers and those doing the work on the ground, and could signal a divide between those expected to implement EU policies and the EU and member states.

Editorial associate Helen Morgan contributed to this report.

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About the author

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Molly Andersmollyanders_dev

Molly is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in London, she covers U.K. foreign aid and trends in international development. She draws on her experience covering aid legislation and the USAID implementer community in Washington, D.C., as well as her time as a Fulbright Fellow and development practitioner in the Middle East to develop stories with insider analysis.


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