In late July, the EU said it had suspended projects related to migration and border control in Sudan and the surrounding countries. It has been alleged the bloc was giving support to the Sudanese authorities in exchange for them preventing migrants from sub-Saharan Africa heading northward. In any case, the arrangement has now been at least temporarily halted.
These projects are collectively referred to under the banner of the EU-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative, or more simply, the “Khartoum Process” (KP). Researchers say the material and funds provided through the process have very likely been used to entrench the power of the Sudanese authorities and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and have possibly directly contributed to the violence we are now seeing in Sudan.
Less well known than similar EU arrangements with Turkey and Libya, the KP serves nonetheless a similar purpose as those deals. “The Khartoum Process is basically about extraterritorial control of migration on the whole,” says Dr. Mohamed Babiker of the University of Khartoum. “It is actually using Sudan as a buffer zone to control migration.”
The process was born around the same time as the Valletta Conference on Migration which took place in 2015, amid the turmoil of the migrant crisis. The EU Trust Fund For Africa was created at the conference and endowed with hundreds of millions of euros for, in the EU’s words, “stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa.” Babiker says it does not address the root causes of migration at all.
“It doesn’t take into consideration the dynamics in the region, the concerns of the population in terms of their aspirations for development and human rights protection and living a decent life.”
Instead, he said, it is a way for the EU to outsource migration control to other countries, ostensibly for their own protection but just as much to prevent them reaching Europe, as with the Turkey-EU deal.
Babiker said that over the last few years in Sudan he has seen many EU-funded training programs run under the KP umbrella. They did not appear to him to be addressing the root causes of migration:
“The main focus was border management, running the borders rather than actually dealing with core issues related to the root cause of migration and also human trafficking, refugee protection. The main purpose behind the Khartoum Process is to control the borders. That’s why we call it extraterritorial control.”
But the implications of the Khartoum Process go further than just outsourcing the EU’s migrant problems, which has been a fairly established policy tool for the bloc since the migrant crisis.
Conflict is nothing new to Sudan, but since long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in April, the country has descended into violence as pro-democracy demonstrators clash with, or more accurately are brutally attacked by, the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), under the control of a council of army generals who took power in April.
While it has not been proven that the material resources provided to the Sudanese authorities by the EU through the Khartoum Process have flown directly to the RSF, they no doubt contributed to their ability to build patrolling and enforcement capacity in the region. In any case, Babiker said the resources were delivered with almost no requirement for accountability once received by Sudan: “These are not accountable governments. So the funding normally ends up entrenching and empowering abusive forces like security operators.”
“There are so many questions to be asked about the EU policy with respect to the fact that the RSF has shown its hand as a brutality repressive force,” says Maddy Crowther, co-executive director of Waging Peace, a London-based human rights organization which focuses on Sudan. She says that while now might not be the right time to interrogate the Khartoum Process, the priority being, of course, the current conflict, the process will eventually need to come under serious review. “It will be a travesty if the EU isn’t asked really tough questions about how they got to a situation where they were possibly complicit in human rights abuses and atrocities,” she says.
Even apart from these very serious concerns, academics such as Babiker and his colleague Lutz Oette of University of London’s School for Oriental and African Studies, say the Khartoum Process was flawed from the start.
For one thing, Babiker points out that migration control is unlikely to be well enforced, or even desirable, in a region where tribal communities exist across, and often pass over, relatively arbitrary colonial borders: “As a policy, it wouldn’t work because the concept of borders does not exist.”
Moreover, putting responsibility for migrant welfare in the hands of a government with a poor human rights record is a terrible idea in and of itself.
“Our analysis of (the first phase of the Khartoum Process) highlighted the risks for refugees and migrants in Sudan, several of whom were deported to Eritrea where they faced persecution,” says Oette. “Others were subjected to ill-treatment in Sudan. There have also been reports that Sudanese forces colluded in smuggling and trafficking.”
Oette says with the Rapid Support Forces, who have also been accused of serious crimes in Darfur, in charge of border controls there is little reason to think they will be satisfying the ostensibly humanitarian aims of the Khartoum Process.
“The violence unleashed in Sudan, particularly by the Rapid Support Forces, a key player in enforcing migration controls, serves as an epitaph for an ill-conceived partnership, and as a lesson for policymakers to learn from past failings. The Khartoum Process, particularly Sudan’s role, needs a fundamental rethink and new approach.”
Oette and Babiker argue that any future collaboration on migration between the EU and countries in the Horn of Africa needs to be evidence-based and well-considered, with a goal that goes beyond short-term expedience: “This means looking at the situation on the ground, genuinely engaging with the people concerned, tackling the broader governance problems, and developing an empirically grounded mid-to long-term strategy.”
Babiker says that if the EU does want to reduce migration from and through Sudan, it would do best to focus its efforts on helping the country stabilize.
“The EU should put its weight into resolving the Sudanese issue; pushing for democratic transformation and rule of law. Because the result will be counter-productive if the same old approach is followed in terms of controlling migration. One of the policies that needs to be adopted is actually a stable Sudan, a democratic Sudan, where people have rights and can enjoy the rule of law.”
Update 08/08/2019: In an emailed response to this article Carlos Martin Ruiz de Gordejuela, the EU’s Spokesperson for Humanitarian Aid stated:
“There is absolutely zero EU funding that goes to the Sudanese Government, the Rapid Support Forces or any militia, including the Transitional Military Council. The EU does not support in any way – including indirectly – and of the above-mentioned entities, in particular, the Rapid Support Forces militias which we have no relationship with at all. Any suggestions otherwise are completely false.”
“EU-Sudan relations continue to be impacted by the action of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Sudan’s subsequent decision not to ratify the revised Cotonou Agreement. This means that no EU funding is decentralized nor channeled through the Government or other authorities. We therefore do not have any financial relations with the Sudanese authorities.”
“Instead, all EU-funded support to the people of Sudan is implemented only by EU Member States development agencies, United Nations agencies, and NGOs, who are closely scrutinized through strict and regular monitoring during projects’ implementation.”