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Matt Broomfield

EU pays Sudan blood-money to stop migrant routes

Janjaweed militias fighting for the regime have been linked to human rights atrocities [AFP]

Date of publication: 9 October, 2017

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EU governments are silencing their internal concerns over massive human rights violations in Sudan while paying out money to prevent the flow of migrants into Europe.

The European Union is paying Sudan to stem the flow of migrants into Europe - despite internal worries the money will help Khartoum commit atrocities against its own citizens.

Internal government correspondence, seen by The New Arab, clearly shows the UK's desire to choke off migration flows into Europe is being prioritised over concerns about collaborating with a human rights-abusing regime.

The news comes after the United States on Friday decided to "formally revoke" a number of economic sanctions against Sudan, following months of discussions over human rights concerns.

In a series of memos obtained via a Freedom of Information request, UK civil servants fretted over "reputational damage" and black marks on Khartoum's human rights record while also approving hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.

Osama Mahmoud is the press officer of diaspora campaign group the Darfur Union. "People tend not to remember that the Sudanese government is responsible for the longest-running genocide in the world," he told The New Arab.

"What scale is the British Government using to weigh the benefits they'll get out of this regime against the atrocities they have to witness?"

The European Union is currently providing funds to Sudan and other nations in the Horn of Africa via a programme called the Khartoum Process - aimed at strengthening borders, combating trafficking and slowing migration flows into the EU.

Under the Khartoum Process, the UK and other Western nations provide indirect funding to a nation whose president Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, and whose border authorities have reportedly colluded with human traffickers in the kidnap and torture of hundreds of Eritrean refugees.

The UK government has received numerous reports from civil sector campaigners of widespread torture centres, where dissidents and political activists frequently go missing and are often killed. Just two weeks ago, state forces shot dead five peaceful protesters in a camp for internally displaced Sudanese.

A spokesperson for the Sudanese Embassy in London did not respond to a request for comment.

The UK government has previously been forced into action only when human rights transgressions became too flagrant to ignore

New priorities

In a sign that the UK Foreign Office no longer prioritises tackling government bombardments or brutal deadly conflicts, unidentified civil servants repeatedly focused on "border management" and "anti-trafficking law". Far from addressing the human rights abuses which force people to flee Sudan and neighbouring countries, they actively put EU funding and training into the hands of what Mr Mahmoud called "notorious militias [who use] mass rape as a deterrent".

The released documents give an insight into how this decision was made. In a briefing dating from 2015, then-Ambassador to Sudan, Peter Tibber, expressed his concern that campaigners – including parliamentarians - would "jump at any indication that [the UK is] softening our stance on issues of conflict and human rights".  

But subsequent correspondence shows the British government paying only lip service to the "root causes" of migration flows from Sudan and neighbouring Eritrea. Foreign Office officials state that "broader human rights concerns were flagged clearly [in negotiations with Sudan], but in a manner that ensured they did not prevent open discussion."

The UK government has previously been forced into action only when human rights transgressions became too flagrant to ignore, for example cancelling a programme training Sudanese police following "the violent suppression of protests" in 2013. Earlier this year, the Sudanese government again flogged, fined and deported a group of Ethiopian and Eritrean migrants following a peaceful demonstration.

Instructions issued by the Home Office to its lawyers back in 2015, meanwhile, show the government's stance that non-Arab Darfuris can be deported even if they will be "questioned, probably intimidated [and] possibly rough handled" by Sudan's infamous National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).

The submissions state the "extremely common phenomenon of arrest and detention… though intimidating (and designed to be intimidating)" should not dissuade Home Office decision-makers from trying to deport members of ethnic groups which still face rampant violence and persecution from the Sudanese government and aligned non-state actors.

This approach has now entered official Home Office guidelines, last updated in August 2017. According to the NGO, Waging Peace, it is now being used to refuse asylum claims from people fleeing violence in Darfur and across Sudan.

"The Home Office says 'why do deportees have to go to Darfur, why can't they stay in Khartoum?'" Mahmoud said. "But these are the most marginalised people of [all] Sudan."

Torture and collusion

In 2016, Mohammed Ahmed, an asylum-seeker to the UK was deported back to Khartoum where he was taken by the NISS for interrogation. He left their offices in a body-bag three days later – likely an instance of "rough-handling" taken to its lethal conclusion.

Read more: Sudan's tortured prisoners: a spotlight on the forgotten victims

In any case, the feared Arab militias known as the Janjaweed have now been incorporated into the formal state apparatus of Sudan under the umbrella of the Rapid Support Forces – "These people are now running the prisons [people will be deported to]," Mr. Mahmoud pointed out.

Taken together, the legal guidelines and the government correspondence show a clear drive by the British government to externalise its borders and pay off the long-ostracised al-Bashir regime, whom former Ambassador Tibber believes "would welcome… an opportunity to turn around their standing with the international community."

In the initial briefing sent to the Director of the UK's Mediterranean Migration Unit, Tibber said: "On most political issues [the UK and Sudan] are at opposing ends of the spectrum, although on some regional issues [our] interests are more aligned, and migration could be one of those areas."

It is an effective summary of the government's position as it emerges through these documents.

For example, the Sudanese government has been caught "forcibly returning Eritreans to serious risk of detention and abuse at the hands of a brutal government." But as Tibber wrote, the UK can "capitalise on the normalised state of Sudan-Eritea relations as a vehicle for engaging with Eritrea". Elsewhere, he admits the challenges of working with anti-trafficking police who dole out the death penalty as punishment.

National security agents engage in entrenched patterns of repression … using lethal force to disperse protesters, killing hundreds in broad daylight

Following a submission of concerns by a group of Sudan-focused NGOs in the UK, human rights abuses are repeatedly described as a priority and a "huge and enduring challenge" by civil service employees.

Yet this challenge is only tackled in vague terms of "raising concerns" and calling on the Bashir regime to change its ways, rather than anything more concrete. (When approached by al-Araby for further comment, the Foreign Office said they had nothing to add to the original FOI release.)

According to a Human Rights Watch 2017 report, "national security agents engage in entrenched patterns of repression … using lethal force to disperse protesters, killing hundreds in broad daylight."

And this dire security situation tends to distract attention from other horrendous and ongoing humanitarian crises, including famine in the southern Nuba Mountains and an outbreak of cholera.

Up to 800,000 Sudanese people are currently living under starvation conditions, following a total blockade on aid and a medicine drought across the Nuba Mountains and neighbouring areas. An uneasy ceasefire between the government and rebel forces was only reached five months ago.

But with another €100 million (£89 million) recently earmarked for Sudan under the Khartoum Process, it seems the UK's desire to outsource its border controls and choke off migration flows into Europe trumps any lingering concerns about collaborating with a regime.

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