EU migration deal emboldens war criminals in Sudan

EU migration deal emboldens war criminals in Sudan
5 min read
09 Mar, 2018
Comment: By dealing with a militia state, the EU is now at the mercy of war lords who run the country, writes Mat Nashed.
Violence, famine, desertification and civil war have caused many Sudanese to flee [AFP]
As millions of Sudanese become refugees or are internally displaced, their government is cooperating with the European Union to clamp down on migration.

The Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, which the European Commission established in 2015, first allocated Khartoum 40 million euros to help "manage migration" in the horn of Africa. The next year, the EU agreed to give 100 million euros to aid some of the most conflict-ridden areas in the country.

Despite the rosy rhetoric, 5 million euros from the first pot of money risks going to Sudanese security agencies that are notorious for committing grave human rights abuses, according to a report by the Enough Project, a non-profit based in Washington DC.

Of most concern is the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) - which has its roots in the Janjaweed, meaning Devils on Horsebacks - which is tasked with patrolling Sudan's frontiers. That same unit is responsible for killing more than 300,000 people, and uprooting millions in the western province of Darfur since 2003. 

The EU has repeatedly denied funding the group, though the head of the RSF, Mohammad Hamdan says otherwise.

If documents leaked in May 2016 to German daily Spiegel online are to be believed, the EU planned to provide Sudan with surveillance equipment, assistance in building two migrant detention centres and training for its border patrol units.

Europe might have anticipated this trap if it wasn't blindly pursuing a clampdown on migration

Under these terms, the EU/Sudan partnership risks emboldening the RSF and other security branches, all of whom are tasked with cracking down on refugees or Sudanese nationals. 

Human rights - an afterthought

Rocket propelled grenades, anti-aircraft missiles, and machine guns are all part of the RSF's arsenal. These are the same weapons that the group used to crush rebellions in South Kordofon, Darfur and the Nuba Mountains. Now, the RSF is using them to go after traffickers, smugglers and migrants.

In September 2017, the unit boasted about killing 28 smugglers, but nobody knows how many civilians died in the clashes as the RSF refuses to disclose the number of migrants it kills.   

Though the lack of transparency raises concerns among rights groups, it hasn't dissuaded Hamdan from attempting to blackmail the EU. According to Sudanese media reports, Hamdan threatened to stop patrolling Sudan's frontiers unless the EU pays a ransom to retrieve traffickers from RSF custody. That claim hasn't been substantiated, though it's clear that RSF is lobbying for more EU support.

Europe might have anticipated this trap if it wasn't blindly pursuing a clampdown on migration. The bloc's sole condition is to achieve this end without tarnishing its reputation by cooperating with the RSF.

Sudanese rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) survey the still smouldering ruins a day after the abandoned village of Chero Kasi was set ablaze by Janjaweed militiamen in the violence that plagued the Darfur region in 2004 [Getty]

But by dealing with a militia state, the EU is now at the mercy of war lords who run the country.  

Refugees, of course, are the ones who suffer from this arrangement most. In February 2017, Khartoum's court police seized, whipped, and deported 65 asylum seekers, most of whom were escaping military conscription and repression in Eritrea.

Read more: State oil money is funding South Sudan conflict: Reports

Deporting people back to a country where they face a well-founded threat of persecution violates the rule of non-refoulment, which is the cornerstone of international law pertaining to the protection of refugees.

The EU, for its part, is implicated in violating this code by supporting security forces that deport asylum seekers.

European officials have nonetheless double downed on their rhetoric, claiming that most of its financial support is channelled to partnered NGOs on the ground in Sudan. Little did they mention that some of these NGOs could be colluding with repressive state security units.

Law enforcement agencies appear to be profiteering from cooperating with the EU

The UN Refugee agency, which is one of the EU's key partners, has even provided motorbikes in the town of Kassala to the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) – a Sudanese spy agency which hunts, tortures, and kills human rights defenders in the country, and in exile.

The same agency regularly commits crimes such as extrajudicial killings, torture and rape. It also enforces restrictions on freedom of assembly and freedom of speech throughout the country.

Most Sudanese refugees I have spoken to say they fear the NISS more than any other security agency in Sudan. 

Aiding corruption

The NISS is also implicated in the trafficking and smuggling of refugees. Eritreans, Somalians and Ethiopians are crowded into warehouses in a small town outside of Kassala, where they wait to be smuggled into Khartoum by NISS agents.

A former police officer and smuggler, told Refugees Deeply that nobody can ship persons in and out of Sudan without permission from the authorities.

With the country entrenched in corruption, the EU partnership with Sudan appears to be doing little to stop human trafficking or smuggling. Instead, law enforcement agencies appear to be profiteering from cooperating with the EU, and NGOs that the EU is supporting.

The EU should instead consider taking a more active role in brokering an end to protracted conflicts

To save face, Europe would be better off annulling all agreements with countries that are headed by war criminals, starting with Sudan.

The president, Omar Al-Bashir, is still wanted by the International Criminal Court for authorising crimes against humanity more than 10 years ago in Darfur. The security services under his command are notorious for crushing rebellions, killing civilians and profiteering from the chaos.

Collaborating with these security branches, under any capacity, won't remedy the causes of migration; it will exacerbate them. The EU should instead consider taking a more active role in brokering an end to protracted conflicts, while fostering sustainable economic alternatives for communities that rely on smuggling to make ends meet.

These strategies won't mitigate the migration crisis overnight, especially if regular legal channels aren't established for people to migrate safely.

People from the global South will keep coming to Europe whether politicians like it or not. The world's politics must be redesigned for the unimpeded movement of all.

Mat Nashed is a Lebanon-based journalist covering displacement and exile. 

Follow him on Twitter: @matnashed

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.