El Malha / Khartoum — The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Sudan's main militia, have thwarted the smuggling of 154 young men from North Darfur to Libya last week.
Col. Osman Abulgasem, Director of the RSF Guidance and Services Department, told the official Sudan News Agency (SUNA) on Saturday that the men were captured in El Malha, from where they would be smuggled into Libya.
Most of the captured illegal migrants are aged between 22 and 26 years. Most of them are Sudanese, others are Arab nationals.
Preliminary investigations indicate that the men are members of "terrorist organisations and negative movements", he said.
The group has been transferred to El Jeili military camp near Khartoum.
Abulgasem added that the RSF halted eight large human trafficking operations in the triangle border between Sudan, Libya, and Egypt.
He emphasised that the RSF "remain vigilant to the borders of the country [..] to combat negative phenomena, the smuggling of arms, drugs, and human trafficking". The government militia abides by "the international conventions and human values that care for the rights of the victims" and has treated the captives "humanely".
Last week, the commander-general of the RSF, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan (aka Hemeti), announced that his government stopped combating human trafficking and illegal immigration "because the Western countries have not responded to Khartoum's efforts in this regard".
Sudan's Second Vice-President Hasabo Abdelrahman denied Hamdan's statements the following day. Khartoum remains committed to combating the phenomenon of human trafficking that represents "a contemporary form of slavery", he said at a workshop. He added that his government has reviewed the national legislation to be in line with international law.
Sudan is a main source and transit country for many refugees attempting to travel to Europe. The EU therefore opted to financially support the Sudanese government in the combat against human trafficking and illegal migration. In April 2016, the EU established the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. The Fund contained a development aid package of €100 million that should tackle the root causes of instability, irregular migration and displacement in eastern Sudan, Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Another €40 million was allocated to Better Migration Management in Khartoum. An additional amount of €15 million should improve the living conditions of refugees and host communities in eastern Sudan (Kassala) and Khartoum and strengthen the capacity of local authorities.
Sudanese and international activists have questioned the funding. The USA-based watchdog Enough Project warned in April 2017 that EU support to Sudan in combating illegal migration would assist "the notorious RSF" - which the EU denied.
The New York Times pointed to the EU "quietly getting its hands dirty" by outsourcing border management to countries with dubious human rights records. Radio Dabanga reported that the commander-general of the RSF wanted the international community to recognise the efforts of his troops to halt human trafficking.
In April this year, the EU and Sudan launched a joint initiative to combat human trafficking and illegal migration in the region. The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa is funding the three-year-initiative. It will be implemented by the the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with a budget of €45 million for the entire Horn of Africa (Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia).
'US Terrorism list'
In October last year, Washington lifted two-decades-old economic sanctions on Khartoum "in recognition of the Government of Sudan's sustained positive actions to maintain a cessation of hostilities in conflict areas in Sudan, improve humanitarian access throughout Sudan, and maintain cooperation with the US on addressing regional conflicts and the threat of terrorism".
The US decision did not include the removal of Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism - to which it was added in 1993.
In September last year, the USA added Sudan to the list of countries accused of failing to combat human trafficking. This has led to legal restrictions on Sudan for the 2018 fiscal year, and could further isolate Khartoum from Washington.
In an op-ed publshed in February this year, Enough Project's John Prendergast wrote that the US move towards normalising relations with Sudan is ignoring critical developments that affect core American security interests.