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As the tragic, complicated and seemingly intractable European migrant crisis manifested both in the Mediterranean and at Calais drags on, competing explanations fill the airwaves. One is particularly arresting – bringing a diverse range of commentators, from Nigel Farage to Frankie Boyle, into agreement – namely that British participation in western military interventions has destabilised developing countries and driven migrants into southern Europe and up through to Britain. To quote Mr BoyleWe invade their countries and justify it by saying that our way of life is better, then boggle at the idea they might think living here is great. We pay no attention to how our actions in other countries have precipitated this situation.”

It’s a claim worth giving some attention to, with recourse to facts.  These facts are accessible through the work of the body that co-ordinates detection of illegal migration into Europe – the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, more commonly known by the slightly snappier title of ‘Frontex’. The Frontex Report for 2014 analyses the 283,532 detections across Europe and produces some surprises as to where the majority of migrants originate from. The top five places of origin for detected migrants in 2014 were as follows:

Syria (28% of all migrants)

Eritrea (12% of all migrants)

Sub-Saharan Africa (no individual country stated) (10% of all migrants)

Afghanistan (8% of all migrants)

Kosovo (8% of all migrants)

From Syria, to Eritrea and Sub-Saharan African countries, it is difficult to pin the blame on non-existent western boots on foreign ground. As for Afghanistan, the number of Afghan migrants detected in Europe doubled between 2012 and 2014 – two years in which western troop numbers have reduced dramatically and civilian deaths have fallen. As for Kosovo, the invasion of 1999 seems an unlikely culprit for what Frontex Report describe as a ‘‘sharp increase in November and December 2014’’ in Kosovan migrants.

This is not an argument for western military intervention. It is however evidence that military action by western countries is not the primary driver of migration to Europe.

What the top five places of origin for migrants do have in common is not a recent history of western intervention, but an unhappy present of corruption and human rights abuse. Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and a number of Sub-Saharan African countries lead the global league table when it comes to perceptions of corruption. Global human rights indexes tell a similar story, with Eritrea, a one-party state since 1993, being ranked first in the world when it comes to risk of its citizens undertaking forced labour. The violence in Syria is killing thousands of civilians every year.

We should bear these statistics in mind when considering the plight of the migrants currently camped before Calais. They are not foreign policy chickens coming home to roost, but in many cases citizens of countries where life chances are determined by the ability to bribe, and to avoid violence. It’s a formula that hits the poorest and minorities the hardest. It is perhaps hardly surprising that many of those hit hardest by this head for Britain, a land where the principle that everyone can ‘work hard and get on’ is well-established.

In this context, the commitment of successive British governments to international aid spending – much of it focused on stamping out corruption and abuse – is welcome. The instinct to work hard and get on is global – a free and fair society in which to do this should be a universal condition. In such a world why would migrants risk life and limb travelling thousands of miles to work a fair and safe day for fair pay, when they could do it at home? As with so many other global issues, when it comes to migration, foreign aid is the long term preventative that can head off future escalation.

The need to go further on tackling corruption is widely accepted. In 2014, the Independent Commission on Aid, whilst commending the Department for International Development for showing leadership on the issue, argued that the UK should take a more ambitious stance on tackling corruption around the world as experienced by the poor. The Commission suggested that the UK could be a beacon for anti-corruption internationally’’.

It’s a beacon needed more than ever, as increasing numbers of migrants undertake desperate journeys over the dark and dangerous sea.

Matt Browne is an Associate at Bright Blue and tweets @MattRCBrowne