Accepted paper:

Foreign Aid to respond to immigration concerns: does more aid reduce irregular migration flows to Italy?


Gabriele Restelli (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This research investigates whether aid is an effective tool to curb irregular migration flows to Europe's borders. Estimates suggest that, while there is a negative association between aid and irregular inflows, ODA is a less than efficient tool to respond to donors' migration control concerns.

Paper long abstract:

Irregular migration has been increasingly linked to national security priorities by European countries. To respond to their immigration concerns, donors are resorting to foreign aid as a tool to replace migration from developing countries. This research investigates whether aid is effective at curbing irregular flows to Italy, a key border country.

Drawing on the migration hump theoretical framework, I estimate the determinants of inflows between 2002 and 2015. I find evidence of a negative association with aggregate Official Development Assistance (ODA) as well as Governance Aid for lower-income origin countries. I also find that Humanitarian Aid is associated with smaller inflows from countries with income levels above 3,990 USD. The results confirm the dominant effect of total over bilateral ODA, highlighting the negligible impact of Italy as an individual donor on migration to itself. The results also contribute with clarifying conflicting evidence in literature: it is the migrants' network, rather than bilateral aid, that exerts a positive attraction effect.

While the research provides some support to the negative association between aid and irregular migration, it also suggests that it is a less than efficient tool to deliver migration control objectives. Estimates indicate that additional 250,000 USD should have been disbursed per each "prevented migrant" to stem flows from Nigeria, the top sending country in 2015. That translates into a threefold increase of current overall disbursement. Thus, donors should consider whether the expected outcomes justify the investment, which is likely to be to the detriment of other development goals.

panel C02
Donor responses to insecurity and global inequalities (Paper)