Where I’m from, migration is a dirty word. A word to add to the list of other global horrors: poverty, terrorism, climate change. A word that needs to be eradicated, stopped, reversed even.
This refrain is, I guess, repeated across the globe. Western countries – whether it’s the US, the EU or Australia – are increasingly electing populist parties, whose solution to almost every problem is: less immigration.
Build walls. Intercept dinghies. Help refugees ‘in the region’.
Keep migrants where they are.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years reporting on migration, it is this: we can’t. People will move.
People move because they want to improve their lives, or the lives of their children. They move because they want to see the world. They move because they want to have agency over their own future. Whether there are fences, walls or entire oceans: people will move.
I too have moved. I moved from the Netherlands to Nigeria, because I wanted to discover what “migration” – this word that has become the topic of such heated debate in the countries where migrants go – actually means in the countries they come from.
Hello from the other side
In western media, the overwhelming majority of migration reporting is from the perspective of arrival – not departure. A year and a half ago, I decided to flip the script and see how assumptions about migration hold up when you look at them from the places people leave. And so my husband quit his job, and we left our cat with a friend.
Nigeria, a country of over 190 million people and Africa’s richest economy, lies on the west coast of the continent. Nigerians represent the largest group of African migrants who arrive in Europe via irregular routes: either on a fake visa, or across the Mediterranean Sea. Of the 180,000 migrants who reached Italy’s shores in 2016, 21% were Nigerian. Nigeria features regularly among the top five countries of origin for asylum seekers to the European Union.
But here’s the thing: only 9% of these Nigerian asylum seekers are actually given asylum in the EU. The remaining 91% are sent home, or disappear into the shadow population.
My journalism for De Correspondent has focused on this conundrum. I am trying to understand why so many Nigerians choose to migrate, when the prospects of a decent life as an EU resident are so slim. The more I spoke to people aspiring to reach Europe, the more interested I became in the effects of increasingly harsh EU migration policies on those who leave – and on those who stay behind.
The EU’s migration policy: less is better
If there’s one thing European politicians can unanimously agree on, it’s that there should be fewer African migrants in Europe.
The chorus on the right goes: migration is a threat to our security and culture. Less is better!
The refrain on the left chimes in: migration is an indicator of poverty and underdevelopment. Less is better!
The resulting song takes the form of hundreds of millions of euros, invested to improve border control and "tackle the root causes of migration" in Africa.
Where development aid used to be a moral business (i.e. it is our duty to help people out of poverty) or a trade business (if we help people out of poverty we increase our markets), today it is often a migration business (if we create opportunities in developing countries, people will stay there rather than migrate to the west).
This is what I want to unpack for The Correspondent in the coming months. I want to follow the money trails that are flowing into Nigeria from European development and security budgets with the aim of cutting migration. I want to know where the money is coming from, where it’s going, what Europe is trying to achieve, and what the results are in practice.
Meet Ajibola and Giacomo
I’m not the only one asking these questions – they are shared by Nigerian journalist Ajibola Amzat and Italian reporter Giacomo Zandonini. Thanks to the Money Trail grant we can work together on a collaborative journalism project for about six months.
Ajibola has many years of experience in investigative journalism. He exposed a major corruption scandal in the Nigerian education sector, did important work in the north-east of the country occupied by Boko Haram, and recently started a large-scale investigation into the failing Nigerian energy sector. He currently works for the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) and publishes in Nigeria’s The Guardian newspaper.
“I am curious to know if these large flows of money to stop the migration of Nigerians will have any results,” he says. “And how the EU will succeed in spending that money properly in a country like Nigeria, where public money is often spent in opaque and unclear ways.”
Giacomo is a journalist from Italy who has been writing about migration for years, most recently from Niger. For example, he showed how stopping migration has had disastrous consequences for the local Nigerien economy, and he’s worked on stories about migrants being deported from Italy. Giacomo writes for the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica and in the weekly newspapers Internazionale and l’Espresso.
“I have spent most of my career presenting alternatives to the migration narrative prevailing in the Italian media: a black-and-white narrative that is either full of compassion or alarmist. In Niger, I have seen with my own eyes how Brussels’ policy can have undesirable consequences - for migrants as well as local communities and power structures,” he says.
Help us make sense of the money trail
Our main challenge in investigating the effects of Europe’s migration money is this: there is no transparent overview of exactly how much money is involved.
Each European country is free to set up its own migration projects; there are at least ten different European funds that operate separately, and little to no money is spent through the Nigerian government directly. What’s more, countries may have different definitions of what qualifies as a "migration project" and what doesn’t.
In this funding jungle, it’s incredibly hard to see if what Europe is funding makes sense. Even more fundamentally: what does "sense" mean in this context? What’s the goal of all this spending, and is it getting any closer? When will Europe be satisfied with the result?
And Nigeria? What are the effects of this money on Nigerian society? Who gains power, and who loses it? Who actually benefits?
To answer these complex questions, we could use your help.
Do you know someone, or are you someone:
- who deals with migration budgets in European governments, Nigeria or the EU?
- who conducts research into these migration money flows?
- who works for an organisation that implements one of the migration projects that Europe finances?
- who monitors and evaluates these European migration projects?
We really want to talk to you, whether on or off the record. Relevant documents, spreadsheets or evaluation reports are also welcome; anything that can show us a piece of this financial puzzle.
Please also share this callout with anyone you think may be able to help us.
Or maybe you’re just interested in this topic. If so, your questions are also worth a lot to us. What would you like to know about these cash flows? Which questions should not be left unanswered?
Let us know and we’ll get to work!
This series is developed with the support of the Money Trail Project.