The Khartoum Mistake

Written by: Emily Wurst

Khartoum – the capital city of Sudan, and the namesake of a process that threatens the wellbeing of thousands. The Khartoum Process, otherwise known as the ‘EU-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative’, was established in 2014 as a “platform for political cooperation among the countries along the migration route between the Horn of Africa and Europe”. Generally, the agreement stipulates that the governments of Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and others in the Horn of Africa region will curb excessive migration by cracking down on human trafficking and smuggling routes that run through their borders. The EU will then, in turn, fund their efforts through troops and equipment.

 At first glance, it seems to be a success – the number of migrants landing in Europe has halved since 2016.  However, what from the outside appears to be an honorable counter-smuggling collaboration between the European Union and African governments has been revealed to be using immoral, or at the very minimum questionable, means to reach its goal. Unfortunately, the Khartoum Process is as misleading as it is corrupt. The outsourcing of border controls has landed in the hands of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) which evolved from the notorious Janjaweed militia, the group responsible for carrying out Sudanese genocidal counterinsurgency policy in Darfur circa 2003. In 2015, the RSF was designated as Sudan’s primary task force for addressing migration issues, effectively handing them the responsibilities stated in the Khartoum Process. Notably, the EU does not directly give money to the Sudanese government; instead, the EU has funneled over 131 million dollars to Sudan through independent charities and aid agencies. Although much of this goes to food and sanitation programs for migrants, some are allocated towards the funding and training of the RSF, thereby enforcing and legitimizing its power. This is problematic because as early as 2014, the RSF was found by the Human Rights Watch and United Nations to have systematically carried out mass rape, torture, and killings across many Sudanese villages, stirring up haunting resonance with the atrocities committed in Darfur a decade prior. The clear and abundant evidence of human rights violations begs the question – why are they knowingly supported by the EU, an organization that claims a strong commitment to human rights? 

Additionally, despite initial idealism and openness from EU countries to immigrants at the beginning of the refugee crisis, a wave of populism and protectionism has swept across Europe and empowered many anti-immigrant sects. European politicians and governments are being increasingly pressured to keep foreigners out, and it seems they have found the crisis too complex to manage as a whole. On the other side of the immigration issue, countries of origin and those on the path from Africa to the Mediterranean have seen a severe uptick in smuggling, as thousands take drastic, illegal measures to escape religious and ethnic persecution, economic hardship, and political conflict. The inability of the scant African security infrastructure to control borders as well as the longstanding African desire to end isolation from the West has provided more than enough motivation for the parties involved the Khartoum Process to cooperate. 

Furthermore, the Khartoum Process fails to assign any sort of consequence to violent or immoral actions, which seems to delegitimize the EU’s proclaimed goal to “manage migration in a safe and dignified way”. With no accountability mechanism, the RSF has virtually complete freedom to act how it desires. In a country with a history of oppressive governments and human rights violations, providing funding with no consequences for deeply immoral actions is a gross oversight. Ultimately, the European Union may be unintentionally funding the development of a Sudanese militia state.

Trying to solve the problem of migration by cracking down on smuggling is unlikely to lead to a long-term solution. While the EU may want to limit all immigration, it should start by establishing legal channels so that those who will migrate with or without legal permission will do so in a manner that does not put their safety or that of others at risk. As long as people are fleeing persecution and hardship, there will be smugglers seeking to profit from their plight. The pragmatic response would be to acknowledge this and adjust strategies accordingly. Tackling the root of the migration increase — conflict and economic insecurity — would go much further in reducing smuggling than the current palliative approach that only addresses the symptoms, not the cause. Although the EU’s blind funding of the RSF has brought the curb in migration they desired, the Khartoum process has served to embolden a violent and malicious military group and increased the suffering of an already vulnerable populace.