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Sudan: Perilous Crossroads on Refugee Map
February 12, 2018 (180212)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Sudan is one of the central crossroads for African migrant journeys, particularly
for refugees from Eritrea and other counties in the Horn of Africa.
The international media spotlight falls most often on the deadly crossing of the
Mediterranean or slave auctions in the Libyan dessert. But the vulnerability and
deadly perils facing those forced to flee by war, repression, or the struggle for
economic survival extends to a far wider terrain, of which Sudan is one example.
Most African migrants, in fact, are displaced within their own countries
(http://www.internal-displacement.org/) or have
sought refuge in immediately neighboring countries, which bear the primary burden
of hosting them. In sub-Saharan Africa in 2016 alone, there were an estimated 2.6 million
people dispaced by conflict, the largest numbers within the Democratic Republic on the Congo and
Nigeria. African countries host moer than 20 million displaced persons, more than
Europe and the Americas combined (
Most African migrants, moreover, as stressed by a recent report to the UN
Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), do not fit the pattern of displacement,
but are similar to migrants elsewhere in the world. They "move for reasons of work,
study, and family" and "are not from the poorest section of their societies of origin."
This 33-page report, although too detailed to easily excerpt here, is essential
for anyone wanting an empirical overview of migrant flows in and out of Africa, is
available at http://tinyurl.com/y9vgjake.
It does not deny the reality of the perils of forced migration, but it makes clear
that solutions will be elusive as long as policy-makers do not accept the legitimacy and
normality of migration as such.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a report on how European Union support for Sudan
to contain migrant flows promotes the systematic abuse of migrants involving both state
security forces and criminal gangs. Also included, for a wider context, are links to
a selection of recommended articles and reports highlighting other places and analyses.
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Sudan, visit
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on migration, visit
In particular see
June 19, 2017 Africa/Europe: Mediterranean Trajectories
March 6, 2017 South Africa: Targeting Immigrants, Again
November 17, 2016 Somalia: Rising Threats to Dadaab Refugees
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
Recent Sources on African Refugees: Sudan
"Sudan: The E.U.'s Partner in Migration Crime," Refugees Deeply, Jan. 29, 2018
Recent Sources on African Refugees: Israel
"Prison or deportation: The impossible choice for asylum seekers in Israel," IRIN
News, 31 Jan. 2018
"Stop Deportations and Grant Asylum to African Refugees in Israel," Jews of Color, 27
Dec. 2017 [includes short video: Do Black Lives Matter in Israel?]
Recent Sources on African Refugees: Other
"How weavers in Burkina Faso are now on Europe's migration front line," IRIN News, 6
"Human smugglers operate as 'independent traders,' study finds," University of
Cambridge, 22 Jan. 2018
"6 years, 8 countries: A Refugee Couple's Harrowing Search for Safety," Nation, Feb.
Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, "Externalizing brutality to Libya is not an answer
to displacement," European Council on Refugees and Exiles, 1 Dec. 2017
Recent Sources on Global Migration: Structural Analyaes
"Moving Targets: An Analysis of Global Forced Migration, Haas Institute, September
2017 [64-page research report]
Hein de Haas, Sonja Fransen, "Social transformation and migration:
An empirical inquiry," International Migration Institute Network, Jan. 2018,
[40-page working paper]
Inside the EU's flawed $200 million migration deal with Sudan
Without addressing the root causes of migration, only corrupt government officials
and traffickers are benefiting from criminalising migrants
Caitlin L. Chandler
IRIN News, Khartoum, 30 January 2018
http://www.irinnews.org Direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/yac6xac5
- The EU has allocated over $200 million to help Sudan stem migration since 2015
- Asylum seekers allege Sudanese officials are complicit in abuse, extortion
- Traffickers said to hold people for weeks, beat and torture them for money
- Arrivals in Italy from Horn of Africa fell to a fraction in 2017, but new routes
are opening up
- Crackdown has seen asylum seekers rountinely rounded up, taken to Khartoum to pay
fines or be deported
- The EU insists strict conditions govern the use of its money and it is monitoring
As millions of dollars in EU funds flow into Sudan to stem African migration, asylum
seekers say they are increasingly trapped, living in a perpetual state of fear and
exploitation in this key transit country.
In interviews with over 25 Eritrean and Ethiopian asylum seekers in Khartoum and the
eastern city of Kassala, as well as local journalists, and lawyers working on behalf
of refugees, IRIN has documented allegations of endemic police abuse, including
extortion, violence, and sexual assault.
The pattern of corruption and rights violations uncovered feeds into broader concerns
over whether the EU's migration policies are making a difficult situation worse.
Across Sudan's capital, Khartoum, some 30,000 Eritrean, Ethiopian, and other African
refugees are crammed into decrepit, non-descript houses, waiting for their chance to
escape the country and make it to Europe.
Sudan's previously porous northern border with Libya has become increasingly
dangerous to cross after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir deployed the former
Janjaweed a paramilitary group implicated in war crimes during the Darfur conflict
in 2015 as border guards.
This militia, re-named the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and integrated into Sudan's
army in January 2017, arrests asylum seekers and hands them over to the police, who
detain, fine, and deport them for illegal entry regardless of whether returning
them to their countries will result in torture or imprisonment.
Tortured for money
The Shagarab refugee camp appears out of nowhere, a sprawling, dusty settlement in
eastern Sudan near the Eritrean border, two hours by road from the main town of
Kassala, through a series of tightly controlled checkpoints that require police
permission to pass.
Some 40,000 refugees, primarily Eritreans, are registered at Shagarab, but it feels
deserted. For many Eritreans, the camp is only a temporary stop for two or three
months before the next stages of their journey, on to Khartoum, and then on to Libya
or Egypt, before the final goal of Europe.
Inside Shagarab's centre for unaccompanied minors, teenagers watch TV and stay glued
to their mobile phones, eager to be in contact with the outside world. But some have
experienced awful abuse at the hands of traffickers as they escaped from Eritrea
one of the world's most oppressive states and into Sudan.
Dawit*, 17, fled Eritrea to escape military conscription in a country where unpaid
army service can last for years travelling first to Ethiopia and then hiring
smugglers to take him into Sudan.
He couldn't pay the smugglers up front, and so once inside Sudan was trafficked and
held for ransom in Hajer, a town almost all Eritrean refugees interviewed by IRIN
mentioned as a place to avoid.
"Sudanese smugglers tortured us for the payment," said Dawit. "They stripped us naked
and beat us with whips while our families were on the [telephone] line. New arrivals
had two-three days after arrival to pay before being beaten.
"Those who had been there longer were beaten every day. The women fared even worse
men would come, pick them out, and take them away. When they returned, they were
bleeding and crying."
Dawit said that after being held for five days, the smugglers got a call warning them
that there was about to be a police raid, and they all escaped.
The tip-off is entirely in keeping with numerous accounts of the involvement of
Sudanese officials in the trafficking industry.
Sudan has long been a transit country for Eritreans and others on the move, as well
as a country people flee from.
Sudan's increasing criminalisation of refugees and migrants, as well as conditions in
Libya, where the EU backs the Libyan coastguard to capture refugees at sea and return
them to detention centres, have contributed to a steep drop in the number of people
arriving in Italy.
In 2016, 40,773 refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa arrived in Italy; in
2017, only 8,688 people made it.
Yet young Eritrean men and women in Khartoum and Kassala told IRIN they had no
intention of remaining in Sudan, despite being aware of the risks of using smugglers
to take them through Libya and Egypt, where they can experience torture and death.
Some said they would wait for new, safer routes to open, while others were working as
maids and daily labourers to raise enough money to start the journey as soon as
"When I came from Eritrea, 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. All of us left our
families behind," said a young Eritrean woman in Khartoum. "We'll take the risk of
going to Europe."
Over the past two years, the EU has allocated more than $200 million in migrationrelated
funds to Sudan, part of its broader strategy to outsource migration control
to third countries.
EU financing for border management includes training and equipment for border police,
capacity building for the judiciary, and legal reforms to encourage increased arrests
and prosecution of traffickers and smugglers.
This support is despite the fact that the Sudanese government has for years been
condemned for its human rights record al-Bashir has an outstanding arrest warrant
for crimes against humanity issued by the International Criminal Court.
The EU sidesteps accusations it is working with Sudan's repressive security apparatus
by arguing that it doesn't fund the government directly, rather it funnels its aid
through international organisations, including UN agencies.
But these EU partners are willing to work with controversial arms of the Sudanese
For example, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, confirmed to IRIN it has provided
motorbikes in Kassala to the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) a
spy service responsible for the arrest, torture, and detention of human rights
activists and the government's political opponents.
Extortion and abuse
In densely populated Khartoum neighbourhoods like al-Geraif and al-Daim, groups of 10
to 15 Eritrean refugees live in sub-divided shanty houses. Rooms are occupied by
entire families or as many as eight single young men and women at a time.
Many rely on donations from family members abroad to afford food, children's school
fees, and other basic expenses. Those without family support are destitute, eating
only one meal a day, without access to proper sanitation or medical care.
Filmon, 21, arrived in Sudan in November 2016 from Ginda, Eritrea. He shares a dirty,
cramped room with five other young men. Until recently, it lacked a latrine.
"Life in Khartoum is very hard. I don't get enough money or good work and it's not a
safe area," he told IRIN. "I've been asked [by the police] about my cards, my refugee
card, regularly. I think about going to Europe through Libya I have no choice," he
Although Sudan has a policy that refugees must live in camps, the majority of
Eritreans either stop in them just long enough to claim asylum status and collect an
identification card, or head directly for Khartoum. Many have travelled with
smugglers, and some have experienced trafficking, violence, and sexual assault
crossing into Sudan or once inside.
In Khartoum, they find a prison of a different kind. Refugees report being terrorised
by the police, who enter their neighbourhoods sometimes in the middle of the night
and extort and detain people for not having ID cards. Cash and valuables are
Sara is a bubbly young Eritrean woman who attends henna training classes. She told
IRIN how she was arrested on the street for not having her refugee card, and at the
police station was offered a choice: "If you want to be free, you will have sex with
Sara, who was 17 at the time, narrowly avoided being raped because her 19-year-old
female companion went with the policemen instead.
Each month, police funnel hundreds of refugees and migrants through courts in
Khartoum, where they are charged with violating Sudan's Passport and Immigration Act
and fined the equivalent of $360.
If they do not pay the fines, they are deported to their home country, usually
without having the opportunity to consult a lawyer or claim asylum, even though some
may have experienced violence, torture, and other acts in Sudan or in their home
countries that could qualify them.
Hundreds of Eritreans have been extradited over the past two years, including some
who were registered as refugees. Deporting an asylum seeker back to the country they
fled from and where they face persecution is known as refoulement, and it is a
violation of the UN Refugee Convention.
Lawyers working to represent refugees in court before they are extradited describe a
justice system that is just as corrupt as the police force.
"In many cases the traffickers are let go because they have police officers as
[defence] witnesses," said Khalid, a lawyer working in Khartoum. "There are trials
where 250 refugees are arrested, and each one is fined. It happens so fast the
process of being arrested, the trial and the conviction and the judge and the
police force responsible get a cut of the money. These judges are the same ones who
were trained by the British embassy."
The Khartoum Process
Europe's focus on curbing migration from Sudan began in November 2014, with the
launch of the Khartoum Process a dialogue between the EU and Horn of Africa
countries to combat trafficking and smuggling. It initially emphasised protection and
human rights, but in operation its focus has been a law enforcement response to
In 2015, Brussels created a special pot of money the EU Emergency Trust Fund for
Africa to assist the Khartoum Process in addressing the root causes of migration
and fighting trafficking and smuggling.
An Oxfam analysis found that of the 400 million allocated through the fund, only
three percent went towards developing safe and regular routes for migration. The bulk
was spent on migration control.
Police Lieutenant General Awad al-Neel Dahiya, head of the Ministry of Interior
Passports and Civil Registry Authority and a key interlocutor for the EU's migration
efforts, believes the focus is justified.
"As a matter of fact, we have very long borders 7,000 kilometres plus," he told
IRIN. "Compared to our resources, it is very difficult to control maybe we can be
assisted by technology, so we can control the influx, as well as those going out
whether its Sudanese [people or people from] other countries passing through Sudan."
But Sudanese specialists say the EU is operating on the flawed assumption that the
government is sincere in wanting to end the lucrative trafficking business.
"There is a lack of political will from the Sudanese government to fight
trafficking," Rifat Makawi, another lawyer in Khartoum, explained. "Creating new
policies and drafting laws is just done by the government to please Western
countries. On the ground, nothing changes."
A recent report from the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat noted that despite the
flurry of anti-smuggling and trafficking efforts, new smuggling routes continue to
open across the Horn, with Eritrean and Sudanese smuggling networks gaining
One estimate puts the profits of the smuggling business on the northwestern route
from the Horn of Africa to Europe at approximately $203 million in 2016.
An uncomfortable alliance
The US State Department's 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report concludes that Sudan
"does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is
not making significant efforts to do so."
Human Rights Watch has accused the security forces, including the RSF, of colluding
with human traffickers and smugglers rather than investigating them.
The EU's interest in managing migration has precipitated a sharp shift in how member
countries engage with Khartoum. For years, European governments avoided dealing with
al-Bashir because of the ICC arrest warrant and his rights record, but there has been
something of a sea change.
The UK is now engaged in a biannual "strategic dialogue" focused on migration, trade,
and counter-terrorism. Italy has signed a policing agreement on trafficking,
irregular immigration and terrorism; and Norway is discussing an agreement to
facilitate easier deportation of Sudanese asylum seekers. Belgium recently allowed
Sudanese security officials to vet asylum-seekers; those who were then deported back
to Sudan were detained, interrogated and tortured.
Michael Aron, the UK ambassador to Sudan, said the EU can influence police behaviour
through dialogue. "There are people we talk to in the police who are definitely
trying to do the right thing," he explained. "We should be helping the good guys so
they can increase their influence over decision-making and gradually get the
situation more under control."
Meanwhile, over the past three years, the Sudanese government has made it clear it
expects the EU to provide funds and equipment for its migration control efforts.
The head of the RSF, Mohamed Hamdan, regularly boasts about the RSF's role in
assisting the EU. He recently told Al Jazeera: "[The EU] lose[s] millions in fighting
migration, that's why [it has] to support us."
The EU ambassador to the Sudan, Jean-Michel Dumond, rejects criticism of Europe's
relationship with Khartoum. "We have been accused of all the sins of the world, and
it's quite clear we have never cooperated with the RSF we have no link," he told
IRIN. "[EU] aid is given [under] very clear conditions."
Meanwhile, former border control officials from European countries are arriving in
Khartoum as consultants, replacing development experts in some international
agencies. One of the latest EU-funded projects is a Regional Command Center in
Khartoum (ROCK), to be run by Civipol out of the Sudanese police training compound.
"The migration issue is becoming like the Darfur crisis, it's a business," said
Fatima, a Sudanese journalist covering migration who also pointed to the creation of
numerous new government charities that have started turning up at migration-related
meetings. "Everyone wants a piece of the pie," she added.
"Where to keep them?"
Yusef, an Eritrean refugee, tried to head to Europe in 2014 via Libya, but was
returned to the Sudanese border by a militia in Libya. There, he was arrested, along
with hundreds of other refugees.
The Sudanese border guards brought Yusef to the northern town of Dongola that now
serves as an informal detention facility for refugees captured at the border.
On the three-day journey, Yusef alleges that over 50 people died from lack of food,
water, and medical care. Their pleas for help went unanswered. "We told them our
friends are dying, are thirsty, hungry, suffering. They don't protect you," he told
In Dongola, Yusef was kept in a large compound along with hundreds of other people.
Eight Bangladeshi men in the facility paid and were immediately released, along with
a number of Somalis and Sudanese. But the Eritreans and Ethiopians were detained for
Yusef said he counted nine people who died due to lack of medical care.
Representatives of the UN visited a team of four foreigners with an Eritrean
translator and told the inmates that if they had a refugee card they could go back
to the Shagarab refugee camp in eastern Sudan, or else they would be deported.
Yusef had a refugee card but did not trust the UN or the Sudanese government to
protect him. To avoid being sent back to Eritrea, where he could likely face torture
and imprisonment, Yusef claimed to be Ethiopian. He was deported to Ethiopia, and
crossed back into Sudan a few weeks later.
Monitoring from afar
The EU is now planning to work in Dongola through its flagship Better Migration
Management project, a $46 million regional programme run by the German Agency for
International Cooperation (GIZ), in partnership with the International Organization
on Migration (IOM), Italian police and Civipol, a consulting wing of the French
ministry of interior, among other organisations.
"The proposal came from us, because we have nowhere to keep people," said Dahiya, the
head of Sudan's Ministry of Interior Passports and Civil Registry Authority. "Every
month we have to intercept almost 100 or sometimes 500 irregular migrants; we have to
process their return and their protection it gives us real challenges where to
According to the UK ambassador, BMM will set-up a centre in Dongola to help receive
the arrested refugees and migrants. But it's not clear how human rights abuses will
be monitored, especially somewhere where there are no international NGOs or observers
Martin Weiss, the BMM project head in Germany, insists the programme aims to protect
"BMM is not about border surveillance, but about protecting refugees, facilitating
migration, and improving conditions for people who are fleeing their homes," he wrote
in an email. "At present, many refugees are vulnerable to violence, slavery or rape.
We want to provide an effective response to the problem."
But the EU and its partners don't appear to have a viable strategy to mitigate human
rights abuses. In the case of the BMM project, the EU and GIZ claim that its steering
committee composed of the European Commission, Germany, UK, France, Italy, and the
Netherlands oversees human rights risks remotely from Brussels.
"The steering committee has a clear view of what is possible and what is not
possible," said Dumond, "and we don't think there is a big risk [of human rights
violations as a result of EU funding]."
He added that EU officials frequently go on mission in Sudan to assess conditions
But such visits are tightly controlled by the government and the security services.
When IRIN visited Shagarab, for example, police and NISS officers followed,
transcribing every interview.
The EU and GIZ also declined to show country specific budgets for Sudan for the BMM
programme. That opacity is a way to escape "accountability and scrutiny", explained
Giulia Laganà, a migration specialist at the Open Society European Policy Institute,
The situation Yusef faced in Eritrea forced him to leave. Stricter border controls
did not deter him in striving for a better life, and neither did the rights abuses he
encountered. Yet there is no indication the EU is open to adjusting its migration
management strategy in the face of mounting criticism that its approach in Sudan is
not only ineffective but also causing harm.
"The real root causes of migration are very complex," said Dumond. "You cannot hope
to address all these problems and have quick solutions in a few months."
But a new report from the International Refugee Rights Initiative, The Strategic
Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), and The Centre for Human Rights
Law at SOAS, University of London, argues that a re-think is urgently needed.
"As barriers are created without sufficient alternatives being offered, people are
taking greater and greater risks and journeys are becoming increasingly dangerous,"
the study found. "The only people benefitting
are the smugglers and traffickers."
Caitlin L. Chandler reported from Sudan with a fellowship from the International
Reporting Project (IRP)
*To protect their identities, sources referred to by a first name only have had their
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