This newsletter is in English. Yes, that is unusual because I always write in Dutch. But it’s for a reason. Today I want to announce a new investigative project for the Dutch platform De Correspondent, that will cut across borders in more than one way.
It will cut across borders, because it is about people who travel from Africa to Europe. It will cut across borders, because it follows money flows that are going in the opposite direction, from Europe to Africa. Most importantly, it will cut across borders because it will be an international cooperation, together with journalists from Nigeria and Italy. It will be published in at least three different countries and languages.
Which is why we need help from across borders. Your help.
(For Dutch speakers: wil je de aankondiging van dit project lezen in het Nederlands? Die is hier beschikbaar.)
Why this new project?
There is one goal which European politicians have unanimously agreed on in recent years: there should be fewer African migrants in Europe.
The chorus on the right says: migration is a threat to our security and culture. Less is better!
The refrain on the left is: migration is an indicator of poverty and underdevelopment. Less is better!
The bottom line is that hundreds of millions of euros are being invested in improved border control and "tackling the root causes of migration" in Africa.
My research will focus on that money.
Because what are the consequences of all those millions that are invested in Africa to curb irregular migration? Who benefits? Perhaps more importantly: who doesn’t?
European politicians mainly use one benchmark to measure the success of their migration policy: the number of African migrants arriving at the European coasts. If you look at those numbers, the EU migration policy is a great success. For years, the number of Mediterranean arrivals has been plummeting.
But there are a lot of issues that this benchmark doesn’t capture. The effects of the money in the African countries where it is spent, for example.
Investigation in the largest African country of departure
Nigeria is one such country. In fact, it is the largest African country of departure for migrants to Europe.
"Open Sesame" is how a senior Nigerian diplomat described the word "migration" to me. It is a code word that has, for the past few years, started opening all the doors of European governments.
A Dutch diplomat in Nigeria laughed when I told him this. He has experienced the same thing: since combating migration from Africa has become the priority of his government, he has the full attention of friends and foes. Nigeria has become part of a "priority region" for the Netherlands. Dutch civil servants come on a "country trip" to learn more about migration from Nigeria to Europe. A special migration attaché has been hired at the embassy. Money is being made available for all kinds of migration projects.
The Dutch money is only a small part of the large web of European programmes that pump hundreds of millions of euros into Nigeria to combat irregular migration.
There is no public overview of exactly how much money is involved. Every European country is free to set up its own projects, and there are different European funds that each work separately.
So how do we know if what we are funding makes sense? Even more fundamentally: what does "sense" mean in this context? What goal is achieved with this money, and is it spent in such a way that this goal is getting closer? When are we satisfied with the result?
Ultimately what are the effects of this money on Nigerian society? Who benefits and who doesn’t?
In the Nigerian town of Benin City, I’ve seen dozens of NGOs popping up in the past year, all with ‘migration’ as their focus. Anything to be able to receive a part of the large European migration cake.
Meet Ajibola and Giacomo
I am not the only one who is asking these questions - they are shared by Ajibola Amzat and Giacomo Zandonini. Thanks to the Money Trail Grant we can collaborate on a cooperative research project for about six months.
Ajibola has many years of experience in Nigerian investigative journalism. He exposed a major corruption scandal in the Nigerian education sector, did important work in the North-East of Nigeria 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).
‘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 - that other West African country where it is so important for Europe to combat migration. For example, he wrote this wonderful analysis of the effects of European aid on Niger for Refugees Deeply. He explained how stopping migration has disastrous consequences for the local economy in Niger. He worked on stories about migrants being deported from Italy.
‘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.’
Giacomo publishes in Italy in the daily newspaper La Repubblica and in the weekly newspapers Internazionale and l’Espresso.
Mapping cash flows
Our project will try to follow the route that Nigerian migrants take – in the opposite direction.
We’ll start in Brussels and other European capitals, where we’ll try to get an overview of what exactly EU countries finance in Nigeria. We also want to know how the decisions on budget allocations are made. For example, we heard that representatives of African countries are present in certain meetings on the allocation of European migration funds – a show of European hands is used to decide whether or not to fund projects. In this way, every vote can become a political statement that can influence the bilateral relationship between the European and African countries.
We’ll then follow the money flows to Nigeria, where we will look at how the money is spent. How much money goes to securing the Nigerian borders? How much goes to the reintegration of deported asylum seekers? How much goes to development projects that try to prevent people from wanting to go?
We will look at a number of projects in detail: what happens to a Nigerian community if we want to achieve less migration with European money? Who are the winners, and who are the losers?
How you can help
In order to bring this project to a successful conclusion, we need 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 the migration projects that Europe finances?
- ... who monitors and evaluates these European migration projects?
- ... who is aware of abuse or mismanagement of these cash flows?
We really want to talk to you – this can also be off the record.
Relevant documents, spreadsheets or evaluation reports are of course also welcome; everything that can show us a piece of this financial puzzle.
Please also share this call-out with anyone you think may be able to help us.
Maybe you are 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 certainly not be left unanswered? Let us know and we will get to work!
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To communicate more securely, contact me via Signal – you can email or send me a direct message on Twitter for more details.
Oh, and for those of you who aren’t Dutch: De Correspondent is a journalism platform in the Netherlands whose mission is to provide our members with an antidote to the daily news grind. More than 62,000 Dutch-speaking members pay for our journalism, ensuring that we can remain independent and fully ad-free. Now we’re on the eve of our largest expansion since our founding in 2013: the launch of The Correspondent, our English-language version, on September 30th 2019.
This project is supported by the Money Trail project.