What underlies the EU cooperation with Sudan?

Since the migrants’ crisis has erupted, several civil society organisations and associations engaged in the protection of human rights have felt concerned by the EU migration policy. The will to close external borders and to prevent people from reaching the Southern countries’ coasts led asylum seekers and migrants to borrow even more dangerous ways, sometimes at the cost of their lives. Desperate to cope with the situation, the EU launched several programmes and other action plans with the aim of keeping away migrants and asylum seekers, but also to send them back to their host country or country of origin – through the signing of readmission agreements. The Khartoum process (launched in November 2014 with 9 African countries including Sudan and Eritrea) and the development cooperation with Sudan perfectly illustrate this point.

For the EU, one of the main areas of concern remains Africa – and more specifically the Horn of Africa. This continent plays a key role in the European attempt to “regulate migration and fight against illegal migration”. For that reason it undertook to cooperate on development with Sudan – notably through the EU Emergency Trust Fund[1], the country being a significant source of refugees in Europe but also a major thoroughfare for people moving from East Africa to reach the Libyan coast. The most controversial part of this overall strategy is contained in the EU’s Better Migration Management project, led by the German development agency GIZ – criticized by the past for having working with authoritarian regimes[2]. Indeed, beyond official speeches (the aim being the improvement of “migration management” and the curbing of “illegal people smuggling and human trafficking”, while “strengthen{ing} the rights of migrants, protect{ing} affected people and establish{ing} decent standards for migration throughout the Horn of Africa”), Sudan will receive €100m over three years, plus additional €46m dedicated to border control, border police training and the establishment of holding centres[3]. It seems important to recall that the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, is the subject of two arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court (ICC), the first one issued in 2009 for seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes and the second one in 2010 for three counts of genocide. The EU certainly does not ignore the charges, neither the credible evidence pointing out the use of chemical weapons last September, as Amnesty International disclosed[4]. The European Parliament itself even adopted a resolution on 6 October to deplore it, adding that “this is a serious violation of international norms and also a war crime” and that it “remains deeply concerned at the ongoing unlawful killings, abductions and gender-based and sexual violence in the conflict areas”[5].

For decades, emigration is a reality for a large number of Eritreans, as the struggle for independence (in 1993) led to mass displacements, but also because of the dictatorial policy of the President Issayas Afewerki since then. The critical situation led Eritreans to account for the largest group of asylum seekers in Great Britain and Switzerland in 2015. A large number of them have passed through Sudan to reach North African coasts. Eritreans are therefore among the first concerned by the deal signed with Sudan, the European idea being to try to hold them within Sudanese borders. Sudan recently launched itself into a crackdown by arresting around 900 Eritrean and deporting 400 others to their country of origin, without allowing them access to asylum procedures[6]. The EU legitimises the Khartoum process by arguing that it is important to keep “a dialogue going” with the isolated Eritrean regime, while closing their eyes to the disastrous effects this policy may have regarding the protection of these same people.

This illustrates how schizophrenic the EU migration policy can be; by making arrangements with regimes of this kind, the EU legitimizes them while at the same time condemn mass human rights violations occurring there, knowing that these repressive governments play a key role in forced migration – the same irregular migration European countries want to keep away.

Sudanese and Eritrean examples are nothing less than illustrations of the overall vision the EU has regarding the migration issue. The Khartoum Process, among other deals, has therefore to respond to the will of the EU to keep the flow of those who are in need of international protection at distance, under the pretext of preventing them from taking unsafe crossings. This kind of initiative is immoral for the reason that development aid is conditioned to the acceptance of the EU conditions. This aid manipulation is nothing more than blackmail. It is also hypocritical: Why reiterating the call for the respect for human rights and dignity while closing external borders? Why condemning publicly Omar al-Bashir and Issayas Afeworki killing actions while indirectly giving them the means to be even more oppressive?

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/eu-bilateral-development-cooperation-sudan_en

[2] http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/eu-to-work-with-despot-in-sudan-to-keep-refugees-out-a-1092328.html

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2016/oct/13/immigration-fears-make-the-eu-prepared-to-do-business-with-murderers

[4] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/09/chemical-weapons-attacks-darfur/

[5] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2016-0379+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN

[6] http://www.irinnews.org/news/2016/05/25/sudan-and-eritrea-crackdown-migrants-amid-reports-eu-incentives

Déborah Guidez

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