The UK’s aid response to irregular migration in the central Mediterranean

UK aid interventions designed to address irregular migration through the central Mediterranean are currently some distance from making a measurable impact.

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10 Mar 2017
Lead commissioner
Alison Evans
Beyond aid
Related documents
Approach paper

ICAI’s review on the UK’s aid response to irregular migration found that the government was scaling up efforts to provide humanitarian support, protection to migrants, and to tackle the root causes of irregular migration, but was at an early stage of determining how aid could reduce irregular migration into Europe.

The review found some of the new initiatives, specifically the upcoming Jobs Compact in Ethiopia which aims to create 30,000 jobs for refugees as part of much larger job creation for host communities, had the potential to be successful.

However, the review found in some cases existing aid programming in the broad field of economic development, including work in the energy sector, the extractives industry and national financial governance, had been unhelpfully re-labelled as ‘migration-related’ when there was insufficient evidence about how it would impact migration.

The review also warned that the risk of UK aid causing unintended harm to vulnerable migrants, or preventing refugees from reaching a place of safety, had been inadequately assessed. This risk was particularly pronounced in Libya, where the UK government provides support to the coastguard and detention authorities.

The review highlighted significant evidence gaps on what influences migration decisions, and praised the UK government’s investment in research and evidence-collection in these areas.


ICAI made the following recommendations to improve the UK’s aid response to irregular migration:

  • The UK government should not label development programmes as migration-related unless they target specific groups with a known propensity to migrate irregularly and can offer a testable theory of change as to how they will influence migration choices.
  • The responsible departments should invest quickly in adapting monitoring and evaluating methods to the long causal chains between interventions and patterns of irregular migration, and ensure that the new portfolio of programmes already in design include strong baselines and monitoring arrangements.
  • The UK aid response to irregular migration should be informed by robust conflict, human rights and political economy analysis, to ensure that it does not inadvertently do harm to vulnerable refugees and migrants. This information should be fed in at an early stage of project or programme design and documentation should contain a clear articulation of the risks, benefits and risk appetite.

Government Response

The government publishes a response to all ICAI reviews. You can read the government’s response to our review of irregular migration online.

International Development Committee

Parliament’s International Development Committee (IDC), or its ICAI sub-committee, hold hearings on all ICAI reviews. You can watch the IDC hearing online.

ICAI’s follow-up

ICAI follows up on all of its reviews to check what progress has been made since publication. ICAI’s irregular migration follow-up report is available to read online.