People from across Africa and other parts of the world pass through Sudan as part of their migration
People from across Africa and other parts of the world pass through Sudan as part of their migration

The EU spends hundreds of millions to curb migration into the bloc. But are those funds leading to positive change or causing further harm? A recent report reveals that in the case of Sudan, EU funds end up being used by local government departments that are complicit or even actively involved in egregious human rights abuses.

The number of asylum seekers reaching Europe has fallen sharply in the past year. Following the official closure of the Balkan Route, the European Union also beefed up its response to stemming the flow of refugees and migrants coming from Africa. In addition to its efforts in the Mediterranean, the EU has been spending hundreds of millions on making sure that asylum seekers remain in Africa, rather than embarking on perilous journeys to reach European shores.

A recent report, however, seriously questions the effectiveness of this approach: According to an article published by the "Integrated Regional Information Networks" (IRIN), an analysis platform originally set up by the United Nations, a large proportion of those EU funds are being misspent. This is resulting in a spike in human rights abuses, rather than addressing the root causes of migration.

The article looked, in particular, at the $200 million (€160 million) allocated to help Sudan stem migration as part of the so-called "Khartoum Process." This is the name given to a platform for political cooperation between the EU and several countries located in the Horn of Africa. This coaction is designed to enhance "cooperation on migration and mobility, while identifying and implementing concrete projects to address trafficking in human beings and the smuggling of migrants," as defined by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). However, this partnership appears largely to have turned into a law enforcement exercise, rather than a human rights safeguard.

Sudan, which borders several countries with internal conflicts, is clamping down on migration - with EU help

Militia waiting on Sudan's border

The IRIN report contained interviews with over 25 Eritrean and Ethiopian asylum seekers in Sudan, who recounted their experiences at the hands of the country's EU-funded authorities.  They described multiple instances of "police abuse, including extortion, violence, and sexual assault."

In Sudan's capital Khartoum alone, there are some 30,000 Eritrean, Ethiopian, and other African refugees living in squalor, according to the IRIN report. With refugees and migrants trying to get out of neighboring Libya, these numbers are only growing, and reports of slavery and torture for ransom are on the increase in the beleaguered North African country.

IRIN reports, however, that the border between the two countries is being patrolled by former Janjaweed militia under direct orders from Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The paramilitary group has been implicated in war crimes during the Darfur conflict, as has President al-Bashir himself, against whom the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued two separate arrest warrants.

Last year, al-Bashir integrated the Janjaweed fighters into Sudan's military, putting them in charge of indiscriminately arresting and deporting asylum seekers for illegal entry into the country. This border patrol is financed directly by EU funds, including "training and equipment for border police, capacity building for the judiciary, and legal reforms to encourage increased arrests and prosecution of traffickers and smugglers."

Tales of extortion and abuse in Sudan

The EU, meanwhile, has rejected accusations of indirectly financing abuse, according to the IRIN report, saying that it didn't work with the country's oppressive government or exchange money with it directly. Brussels claims to have directed aid funds to international organizations on the ground, including UN agencies. IRIN says that the EU insists that "strict conditions govern the use of its money" and that it is "monitoring for abuses."

However, the article went on to reveal that the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, had financed the purchase of motorbikes for Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), an intelligence agency accused of arresting and torturing the government's political opponents.

Some migrants find themselves stuck in Sudan for longer periods and report witnessing police brutality during their stay

While the use of EU funds is making the border crossing from Libya to Sudan increasingly difficult, the situation inside Sudan offers little refuge to the asylum seekers who eventually find their way there. A male Eritrean refugee told IRIN that he was tortured every day until his family paid the required ransom to his smugglers.

Even those who manage to establish themselves at a refugee camp are reportedly being harassed by authorities, who demand to see their documentation. The report details instances of police raids conducted in the middle of the night, whereby people without government-issued ID cards are routinely detained and extorted for money – or even sex.

While demonizing and demoralizing refugees and migrants with such practices, some law enforcement officials are also believed to be complicit in assisting human smugglers, cashing in on an illegal but lucrative business – one which is assumed to have totaled more than $200 million in 2016 alone.

Point of no return for many migrants

The report also highlights that while migration to Italy from the Horn of Africa had dropped to less than a quarter in 2017, compared to the previous year, other routes are constantly opening up – partly with the help of corrupt officials involved in human trafficking. It highlighted the fact that many refugees and migrants had already faced enough pain on their journeys that they weren't willing to give up on their plans to reach Europe at any cost, including the threat of death at sea, in the desert, or at the hands of human traffickers.

The article described a young Eritrean woman's experience of arriving in Sudan: "I was kidnapped for two weeks. I didn't know where I was, and I was raped many times. So, nothing [worse] will happen to me," she said. "We'll take the risk of going to Europe."


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