Does development aid contribute to curbing migration flows to Europe?

Gabriele Restelli

Research output: Other contribution


With the launch of the European Agenda on Migration in May 2015 and the following Valletta Summit, we have witnessed a convergence of pre-existing geopolitical interests with an expanding EU preoccupation with the so-called refugee ‘crisis’, and immigration in general. Development aid has been increasingly advocated as a tool to stem inflows of migrants and asylum seekers, by both addressing assumed ‘root causes’ and allocating resources to border control activities.

This development aid in place of migration policy underlies assumptions which have been largely disproved by empirical research. In particular, economic development and international mobility have been shown to be interconnected processes, rather than substitutes. Moreover, the evidence base supporting the impact of development aid on migration flows is limited and contradictory. While there are several channels through which development aid could affect migration and its determinants, available evidence suggests that the overall effect is unlikely to be a reduction in flows. Even under the best circumstances, to potentially obtain a deterring effect, donors need to commit to much higher investments in development assistance than they did over past decades. As shown by the EU Trust Fund for Africa, this is likely to translate into resources drained from traditional development objectives.

This policy brief wishes to problematise this approach by examining the assumptions EU policies rest upon and the related evidence base. Investigating the mechanisms potentially underlying the aid/migration nexus, we argue that
development policy should return to prioritising development goals (i.e., poverty eradication) over migration control objectives.
Original languageEnglish
TypePolicy brief
PublisherUniversity of Nottingham
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2018


  • Migration
  • Migration policy
  • Refugee
  • Development
  • aid

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities
  • Global Development Institute


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