Does Migration Aid Hurt Democracy?

Professor Nick Micinski on a grey backgroundProfessor Nicholas Micinski is finishing up his third book manuscript, this time examining the relationship between development aid and migration in Africa. Micinski’s previous books were on the 2016 EU migration crisis and UN treaties to address migration. This project is co-authored with Dr. Kelsey Norman (Rice University) and explores how the European Union turned outward to pay dictators to prevent migration. The data shows that development aid does not prevent migration (in fact, it increases it!) but instead has a detrimental impact on governance, often supporting more authoritarian and repressive institutions and undermining the rights of migrants and refugees and citizens, alike. 

Many will have heard of the UK-Rwanda scheme in which the British government has paid Rwanda near £120 million to process (and host) asylum seekers who originally applied in the UK for protection. While there are many similar deals, like the €6 billion EU-Turkey deal or the €84 million EU-Libya agreement, this book examines foreign aid packages that do not make headlines. Migration management aid is often given in smaller amounts and within the typical aid bureaucracies—but to similarly deleterious effects. As such, the book explores the impact of EU migration management aid in four case studies: Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan. A few examples of projects include EU funding for the deportation and reintegration of Ethiopians, funding for pastoralist communities displaced by climate change, human rights trainings for border guards, biometric IDs and databases, and livelihood activities with ‘potential’ migrants. While not all projects hurt democracy, our book theorizes about how and in what ways migration management aid both helps and hurts democratic and authoritarian institutions.

The book manuscript draws on an original dataset of migration management aid (i.e. development aid for any migration purpose), hundreds of interviews, and content analysis of over 1000 policy documents. In spring 2023, Micinski was awarded the CLAS pre-tenure fellowship to conduct fieldwork, interviewing senior UN and government policy makers and conducting archival work in the Kenyan National Archive. In addition, Micinski and Norman hosted a book workshop at the International Studies Association conference in 2024 with nine participants supported by the McGillicuddy Humanities Center and the Political Science department. Micinski and Norman hope to submit the book manuscript to publishers by the end of the year.

Migration management aid is big money and growing. Overall, OECD countries spent $73.69 billion on migration management from 2002-2022 with the United States as the largest single donor country. However, accounting for all member states and institutions, the EU was the largest donor with $37.5 billion (51%) in migration management aid. The amount of migration management aid increased dramatically over twenty years from $718 million in 2002 to $8.71 billion in 2022. This outpaced increases in overall aid. As such, Micinski and Norman’s new book provides much needed skepticism, context, and data to understand the full picture of how migration aid impacts democracies.