The European Union, in the last couple of years, has been forging increasingly close ties with Sudan, a country once globally ostracised for sponsoring terrorist activities and human rights abuses. But human rights have taken a back seat, as the EU moves to stem the influx of refugees and migrants to its collective shores.
The budding partnership between the EU and Sudan is in part a financial one: the EU so far has given just under €215 million to Sudan to curb migration - a figure that is €38 million higher than originally announced in July last year. Sudan, meanwhile, has made no secret that is using an infamous government-aligned militia to arrest more migrants on its borders.
Amid these reports, the EU in mid-December approved the latest portion of these funds to Sudan, totaling €38 million. And as recently as January, the partnership was affirmed in a meeting between an EU envoy and an undersecretary for Sudan's foreign ministry.
While EU officials maintain the money is supporting strictly humanitarian efforts, Sudan watchers question how these funds can truly be tracked. If Sudan is indeed directing these funds to a notorious militia, that could actually be exacerbating the migration crisis further. Skeptics also argue that providing any support to Sudan's government, be it fiscally or through other support, risks legitimising it.
In addition to EU support, individual European nations are bolstering Sudan's anti-migration efforts. A Sudanese delegation in October said it had
As Europe engages more with Sudan over migration, already meagre criticism over Sudan's human rights record will be further muted. "In the last few years there has been a gradual thawing of relations with Sudan in terms of normalising these relations, despite the ICC indictment against Bashir," says Kapila.
EU engagement with Khartoum reflects a wider Western foreign policy strategy of engagement with a formerly ostracised regime. The United States in January announced it would ease economic
The RSF provides frequent updates on their alleged border operations on an official Facebook page. Hamdan even lists the country of migrants intercepted by the RSF in a July entry that included: "49 Somalis, 75 Ethiopians, 196 Eritreans, 48 Sudanese and one Syrian."
While the number of arrests may be exaggerated, their presence and activities along the borders is indubitable, says John Hursh, former lead policy analyst on Sudan for the
Investment from the EU is pouring into Sudan to convert the country from a transit route for migrants into a host country. As this is happening, little focus is made on Sudan's conflicts in Darfur and the "Two Areas" of Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains. These conflicts fuel Sudan's position as the world's fifth largest source of migrants. Meanwhile, up to 3.2 million people are internally displaced within Sudan, including 2.6 million in Darfur.
This figure is unlikely to come down. While Bashir claims the conflict is over, fighting and displacement continues in certain areas of Darfur's central Jebel Marra area. On the first day of 2017, gunmen killed nine civilians and injured 69 others in a town in Central Darfur, Nertiti, Jebel Marra, despite a ceasefire in place, according to eyewitnesses and news reports.
Adnan Bishara, one Darfuri migrant now in the U.K., said Darfuris are desperate to flee from Sudan even with all the risks that the journey brings. On his own trip to Europe, "I saw everything... one time I saw 10 people die in front of me [because there was] no water... left [while in the boat]."
According to the UN refugee agency, the end of 2015 showed that those crossing the Mediterranean to Italy from Sudan actually outnumbered those coming in from Syria at six and five per cent, respectively. And according to the U.K. Home Office immigration statistics of 2015, the third largest number of asylum applications came from Sudan.
Following a recent wave of migrant and refugee mistreatment at the hands of the Sudanese authorities, even some MEPs have reservations about the EU's cooperation with Sudan on the migration front. Over the last weekend of February this year, 65 asylum seekers, primarily hailing from Ethiopia and Eritrea, were whipped, fined, jailed and deported from Khartoum, after a peaceful demonstration protesting a rise in visa processing fees. MEP Barbara Lochbihler, vice-chairman of the European parliament's sub-committee on human rights, voiced concerns about the EU's connection to a government committing human right violations, saying that "if projects such as Better Migration Management carry the risk for the EU to become complicit in human rights abuses, which I believe to be true, we should pull out immediately."
Even British MPs with the all-party parliamentarian group on Sudan and South Sudan issued a report on 21st February this year, harshly criticising the Khartoum Process. The report called out the EU's reputations for championing human rights to be in danger of "being sacrificed at the altar of migration."
Those within Sudan's government also question Europe's focus on curbing Sudanese migration. According to Ismail Omar Tairab, a member of the Sudanese National Committee for Combatting Human Trafficking, Europe has focused all its attention on security, omitting the need to help the migrants within the country.
"The EU wants to turn Sudan into a large prison for migrants and that's why all of the partnerships they have built are with the police," Omar said in an interview with the online news website, Al-Tagyeer. Funds, Omar said in the same interview, are not directed towards protecting migrants, only policing them.
One Darfuri migrant who now resides in Ghana, Ibrahim Ismail, believes that Sudan's government is using the very money coming from the EU into Sudan to continue waging internal conflicts against its own people. "The government of Sudan [uses] everything in order to implement their goals and objectives, so I strongly believe that [this] is true."