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Charities urge European leaders to keep aid for poorest, not refugees

by Astrid Zweynert | azweynert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 16 February 2016 16:12 GMT

Migrants walk towards a makeshift camp close to the Austrian border town of Spielfeld in the village of Sentilj, Slovenia, February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

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Millions in developing countries will lose out if EU govts raid their aid budgets to cover costs of hosting refugees

By Astrid Zweynert

LONDON, Feb 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hundreds of millions of people in developing countries will lose out if European governments raid their aid budgets to cover the costs of hosting refugees and tightening border security, a coalition of charities said on Tuesday.

They issued their warning as the Development Assistance Committee (DAC), a group of the world's major donors that defines and oversees what spending can be counted as aid, meets in Paris this week to discuss the refugee crisis and the rules shaping aid spending for the next 15 years.

Faced with the substantial cost of looking after a record one million migrants who arrived in Europe last year, several governments have already diverted money from their development aid budgets to pay for hosting the new arrivals.

The coalition - which includes Oxfam International, the international development network Bond, the ONE campaign, the European Network on Debt and Development and Save the Children - called on European leaders to ensure that aid does not include defence, security or in-country refugee costs.

"European leaders have the responsibility to meet the needs for refugees escaping insecurity, but it is important that this does not come at the cost of the world's poorest," Tamira Gunzburg, director of ONE Brussels, said.

During its two-day meeting starting on Thursday, the DAC, which is part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development think-tank, will try to agree how peace and security spending will be measured as part of development aid, according to its website.

DAC Chairman Erik Solheim said the group's 28 member countries, like all governments, face the challenge of implementing a new global development goal by 2030 to promote peace, justice and strong institutions in their own countries as well.

"We are close to a compromise with the idea simply to make the system a bit clearer and making it easier to achieve (this) sustainable development goal..." Solheim told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Solheim said the current accounting rules were not always the most practical or cost effective, citing as an example how delivering a field hospital to an Ebola-stricken country by private or commercial cargo plane would count as aid but by military aircraft it would not.

This should not, however, mean that military expenditure or the cost of policing borders and erecting fences to keep out migrants are to be funded from aid budgets, he said.

"That should never come from the aid budget," Solheim said.

Under current rules, DAC member countries are allowed to count as aid some of the costs of hosting refugees, such as health, education and housing, but only for the first 12 months.

"We are advising our members to keep this as low as possible because we don't money to be diverted from aid to Africa and other poor parts of the world," Solheim said.

Hungary, Spain and Malta were cited as examples of countries diverting money from aid budgets in a report last year by Concord, a European confereration of relief and development agencies.

Campaigners are concerned that such a diversion of funds comes against a backdrop of cuts in aid to the poorest nations.

Official development assistance (ODA) reached a record high of $137.2 billion in 2014, up 1.2 percent from 2013, but the poorest countries' share dropped by 9.3 percent, leaving them with less than a third of overall aid.

Solheim said European governments concerned about pressure on their budgets from a growing flow of migrants needed to support the migrants' countries of origin so that they could provide better living standards for their citizens.

"That's a particular challenge for those ...most opposed to migration. They should be at the forefront of increasing spending outside Europe," he said.

(Reporting by Astrid Zweynert, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories)

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