Congolese refugee in Uganda AFP/Stringer

How Poor Countries Foot the Refugee Bill

As the number of refugees from war- and crisis-torn countries continues to climb, rich countries are increasingly diverting their OECD foreign aid to cover the domestic costs of hosting the displaced. These legal but ethically dubious accounting tricks need to stop, now.

PARIS – The Syrian refugee crisis has focused attention on the need to improve management of refugee flows during times of crisis. One issue is particularly worrying: poor countries may be paying a large indirect price for rich countries’ efforts.

Data show that a substantial portion of the costs associated with the influx of refugees and asylum-seekers in some European countries is being reported as official development assistance (ODA) – the measure the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) uses to track international aid spending. This leaves less ODA available to launch, sustain, or expand economic development projects in poor countries.

In 2015, the European Union’s DAC member states spent $9.7 billion of their ODA budgets on approximately 1.2 million asylum-seekers in their own countries. By comparison, they spent $3.2 billion of ODA in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan – the top five countries from which those asylum-seekers had fled.

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