Hey Switzerland, spend your aid and money on development in poor countries and not in Switzerland


Most Swiss certainly think that the 0.47% of their GDP the country spends on development aid is used for projects in poor countries. However, official figures suggest otherwise: Large chunks of the Swiss aid are spent in Switzerland, for example to assist refugees. Switzerland is ranked top: No other rich country spends so much aid on refugee assistance at home. Therefore Switzerland is ranked last: No other rich country gives such a small share of their aid to poor countries.


Common sense suggests that development aid is to support poor countries in their development. But the official definition from the OECD’s Donor Assistance Committee’s (DAC) which determines what may be accounted as development aid in official figures, allows many other activities to be counted as aid activities. The definition includes aid for health, education and infrastructure projects in developing countries but also aid for refugees in donor country, repatriation of these refugees and promotion of development in the donor country. Specifically, „[t]emporary assistance to refugees from developing countries arriving in donor countries is reportable as ODA during the first 12 months of stay, and all costs associated with eventual repatriation to the developing country of origin are also reportable.“ It is hard to find out on the Swiss government’s website for what purposes Swiss foreign assistance is spent. As I argued recently in the Tages Anzeiger, the Swiss government is not transparent about its aid and spends too little of foreign aid in recipient countries.

Switzerland spends the highest share of their aid on refugees at home

Some donor countries have increased their use of this accounting possibility to support refugees in donor country and keep an increasing chunk of aid money at home (see table below). Switzerland has championed this trend. The share of ODA spent for refugees in donor country has been increasing sharply over the last years. In 2007, the share was 9%, in 2010 it increased to 16%, and in 2012 it had surpassed 20%. Switzerland is a relatively small donor (12th rank of all rich country donors in the OECD) but spent a stunning 654 million USD in 2012 for refugees in their country (total assistance in 2012: 3045 million USD). In absolute terms, Switzerland ranks second in a ranking of countries according to the share of money they spent on the category “refugees in donor country”. The United States spends most for refugees in their country, roughly 966 million USD in 2012. But the United States is also the biggest aid provider worldwide (total in 2012: 26 000 million USD). These first and second rank are not a reason for Switzerland to be proud. Even worse however, Switzerland spends least in developing countries.

Switzerland spends the lowest share of their aid in poor countries

In a ranking according to the share of aid spent for refugees in donor country, Switzerland would lead the ranking by far, before Sweden with a share of almost 11% and Italy with more than 9%. The United States falls far behind, spending only 3.15% of their ODA for refugees in donor countries. The average DAC donor spends 3.5% for refugees in donor country. Back to absolute terms, Sweden spends third most and France fourth most on refugees in donor countries. However, given the different size of countries. It is more relevant to consider relative figures. Here, Switzerland stands out with a very high and rapidly increasing share of aid spent for refugees in donor countries instead for project implementation in developing countries. Administrative and, very high, unspecified costs add to these high expenses and result in Switzerland spending only 33% in poor countries, way below the average of 55%.

If the money for development is spent for refugee assistance in Switzerland, it is ineffective in supporting poor countries. Therefore, the government should be honest and call it for what it is: assistance for refugees. But I am convinced: most Swiss do not know about the way the development aid financed by tax-payer’s money is spent: a public discussion is warranted and the Swiss government should start with being more transparent about the precise use of development aid: None of the statistics presented here are easily available on their website in a transparent way.