By Marwa Jalal
From Middle East Solidarity magazine, issue 12. Order a print copy or download as a pdf here
Established in 2014, the Khartoum Process was originally called the EU-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative. It was an outcome of the African Union Regional Ministerial Conference on Human Trafficking and Smuggling in the Horn of Africa which took place in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.
The conference’s claimed aim was to explore solutions to human trafficking in the Horn of Africa and establish a coordinated action plan between the member states in the region.
However, the outcomes of the conference took a different route when representatives of the European council decided to engage in the discussion. Just a month after the conference in Khartoum, in November 2014, a document called the Rome Declaration was adopted at the Ministerial Conference.
The Declaration saw 37 African and European countries agree to cooperate in tackling human smuggling and the social and “human” effects of “mixed migration”, through providing technical assistance and improving national capacity building.
The European Commission has taken the tragic phenomenon of people being forced to leave their homes and rebranded it as a crime.
The term mixed migration mentioned in the document refers to cross-border movements of groups of people who may have a variety of legal statuses – some may be refugees fleeing persecution, others may be victims of trafficking, while others are trying to escape unbearable living conditions.
According to the Mixed Migration Centre, a research body which is part of the Danish Refugee Council, all are entitled to protection under human rights law.
Yet instead of working on strategies to help these groups of “mixed migrants”, the governments of these countries signing the Rome Declaration decided to represent them as enemies and a threat to social harmony.
Indeed, it is this approach of rebranding vulnerable groups as hazardous that has allowed for such an initiative to take place. The African Commission and European Commission have taken the tragic phenomenon of helpless people being forced to leave their homes and expose themselves to all forms of danger and rebranded it as a crime.
The focus – and funds – have shifted from helping the vulnerable and weak, to ensuring they can only leave their countries through routes approved by the same oppressive regimes they were trying to flee.
Even funding for projects aimed at tackling hunger and disease were brought under the umbrella of the Khartoum Process, in effect making humanitarian aid conditional on “improved” border control. Through the EU Trust Fund for Africa, 217 million euros have been allocated to projects in Sudan since 2015.
Although this was the same regime which had instigated a genocide in Darfur, a civil war that contributed to the separation of South Sudan and got Sudan listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, the EU governments continued to work with El Bashir’s security apparatus on “migration management.”
This involved direct support to the Sudanese police, which is notorious for brutal treatment of refugees, and collusion in the rise of the Rapid Support Forces militia.
Under the leadership of Mohamed Dagalo (also known as Hemeti), the RSF brought together and relabelled the Janjaweed militias which had terrorised Darfur on behalf of the government a decade previously, and then tasked by Omar El Bashir with protecting Sudan’s borders in 2016.
As Sudanese researcher Dr Amgad Eltayeb points out, the RSF’s role was not exactly secret: “Hemiti bragged several times in the media about the role of his militia in protecting Europe. He went as far as to demand a ransom in the form of monitoring equipment and drones or he will open the borders to the asylum seekers.”
Although the EU continues to deny that the RSF has benefited directly and indirectly from the Khartoum Process, it is hard to see how else to describe the way in which the militia has risen to prominence within the Sudanese state.
EU governments continued to work with El Bashir’s security apparatus on “migration management,” despite the regime’s role in genocide
Pressure from Sudanese activists finally forced the suspension of some Khartoum Process activities in Sudan earlier this year. These included the relocation of a key intelligence centre, the Regional Operation Centre Khartoum (ROCK), to Nairobi.
A German-led project training Sudanese border guards and police was also “halted” in mid-March, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, revealed. EU officials said that this project had stopped because it required “the involvement of government counterparts to be carried out.”
In mid-March, the EU’s “government counterparts” in Sudan were mainly busy trying to repress a mass, peaceful movement which was mobilising hundreds of thousands of protesters across the country to demand “freedom, peace and justice”.
Dozens had already been killed and hundreds injured by police and the RSF militia. Although El Bashir was removed from power in April by his own generals, the attacks on protesters continued. On 3 June, RSF troops were among the armed men who smashed a sit-in in Khartoum, killing over 100, injuring hundreds and raping dozens of women and men.
This mass movement for revolutionary change boosted campaigns against the Rapid Support Forces, challenging the rebranding aimed at hiding their past crimes.
Social media was an integral part of the activists’ campaign, which hit back at covert efforts by the regime to influence public opinion and boost the military rulers’ support.
Sudanese youth groups sent emails and held meetings with senior managers at Facebook and Twitter demanding that all content praising the Rapid Support Forces be removed and their pages and accounts deleted.
These posts and pages were part of a campaign orchestrated by an Egyptian company which used fake accounts to increase pro-military content on the internet.
Facebook recently announced that it had shut down fake accounts and pages related to Sudan that were linked to this Egyptian company, New Waves.
Sudanese activists spoke up in parliaments across Europe and the UK to demand action
A Sudanese activist, who asked to remain anonymous, sent emails to Eva Perez Gonzalez, Secretary to the head of the Horn of Africa Unit at the European Commission. Another encounter happened on Twitter between various Sudanese activists and the European Commission spokesperson for humanitarian aid and crisis management protesting at his vague and ambiguous replies.
The European Union’s Facebook page was also raided by Sudanese activists regarding their complicity in abhorrent acts against protestors in Sudan.
Sudanese activists spoke up in parliaments across Europe and the UK to demand action to stop the funding of mercenary groups through the Khartoum Process. Lugian Salih, a young activist residing in Ireland, said that most of the efforts in Ireland were made by the Sudanese Revolution Support Committee (SRSC).
Lugain and other members of the SRSC met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dublin about the Khartoum Process and held a briefing session at the Parliament that was attended by political parties and various civil society organisations.
They also held awareness sessions that addressed the human rights violations that African immigrants are subject to and the attempted rebranding of the Janjaweed militia using taxpayers’ money. Lugain told Middle East Solidarity, “we wanted to make the Irish public aware that the Khartoum Process is funded through their taxes in order to put pressure on the EU through public opinion”.
Although these campaigns have been successful in the short term, as long as anti-immigration discourse prevails in Europe, institutions such as the European Commission will continue to invent methods to use taxpayers’ money to extend European borders further south. Meanwhile new laws are making life harder for migrants who manage to reach Europe.
Civil society organizations need to make it clear that they will not tolerate EU states funding oppressive and tyrannical regimes to keep migrants out.
In June 2019 the German parliament passed a controversial legislative package that included the expansion of migration police powers and introduced what it called the “Orderly Return Law”. The law extends the grounds on which asylum seekers may be deported and permits officers to access apartments and put migrants awaiting deportation in regular prisons in a stark violation of their privacy and human rights.
This is the context within which projects such as the Khartoum Process need to be discussed. It is also one of the reasons why the suspension of the Khartoum Process shouldn’t be considered the end of the struggle.
Parties, political activists and civil society organizations in Europe need to make it clear that they will not tolerate funding oppressive and tyrannical regimes on the grounds that they are helping European governments keep migrants out of Europe.
Marwa Jalal is a Sudanese student and activist.