By Maddy Crowther, head of communications for Waging Peace, which campaigns against genocide and systematic human rights abuses and seeks the full implementation of international human rights treaties. Its current priority is Sudan.
No sooner had the UK Home Office been forced to reverse its acceptance of the widely-criticised Danish Immigration Service (DIS) report on Eritrea that halved successful asylum applications from that country, than a fresh assault was launched against a different but large UK asylum-seeking group, the Sudanese.
A joint Home Office/DIS report has been used in a new guidance note to state that non-Arab Darfuris, who used to be recognised as subject to persecution nationwide in Sudan, can be safely relocated to its capital, Khartoum.
This adds to an earlier Orwellian Country Guidance case which essentially ruled that detention, intimidation, and even some degree of rough handling at the hands of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) was so commonplace upon return to the country that it was not to be considered a risk of serious harm and warrant a grant of protection.
It is difficult to track down individuals post-deportation to see if they have been ill-treated as a result of either their status as a failed asylum seeker or due to their ethnicity, but at my Sudan human rights NGO Waging Peace we have released reports including testimonies from individuals who were tortured and interrogated after return.
We remain concerned that removals to Sudan could put many at risk.
But quite aside from the danger to individuals, this change in jurisprudence mirrors and builds on something more worrying happening in the UK and wider EU diplomatic community – dictators in Sudan are Eritrea are being taken back into the fold as legitimate partners in stemming migration from and through the Horn of Africa, via an initiative known as the Khartoum Process.
Under the Khartoum Process (the name itself a PR coup for Sudanese officials), funds will go to projects aimed at reducing the numbers fleeing the conflicts and repressive governments peppered around the Horn of Africa.
Some of the sums will simply fill the role traditionally played by development assistance, but others will be earmarked for programmes that build the capacity of the bodies tasked with policing borders.
In Sudan, the EU has been forced to deny that this will include the Rapid Support Forces, the rebranded ‘Janjaweed’ guilty of the worst abuses at the height of the genocide in the Darfur region. In actuality it will be near-impossible to guarantee funds will not become dual-use.
This highlights the ultimate hypocrisy at the heart of the Khartoum Process: those governments that have for decades killed, maimed, bombed, raped, enslaved and even chemically attacked their own populations are now embraced as partners in preventing victims fleeing the violence they continue to perpetrate.
Of course the answer is not ‘no engagement’, especially as in a fractured political and security environment you may be able to find some allies and secure genuine wins while maintaining a respect for the human rights of refugees and migrants.
However, our main concern is that to date little has been publicly released indicating that this approach is evidenced or condition-based. For Sudan, the only reliable way to reduce refugee numbers is to push for a substantive resolution to the conflicts in and between its borders.
In fact, by way of contrast, my prediction is that the Khartoum Process will actually increase the number of Sudanese grants of UK asylum. First, because higher development spend tends to increase mobility in the short-term. And second, because of the law of unintended consequences.
We have already seen this in action. Italy, which is the driving force behind the EU’s adoption of the Khartoum Process, signed a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding with Sudan, largely to cooperate on migration management. In August this led to the forcible deportation of 40 Sudanese from Italy to Khartoum, allegedly under a collective expulsion order without proper assessment of their asylum claims.
Given that most Sudanese asylum seekers in the UK are slated for removal to Italy under Dublin rules, lawyers are now arguing that removal is unlawful given it will result in de facto refoulement, meaning the UK may be forced to process these claims.
So the murky world of diplomatic dealings with dictators has run aground the often murkier and opaque EU asylum architecture, for now at least.
Ultimately though, EU officials do have to ask themselves what values they are willing to sacrifice for shaky concessions on migration. Is it worth doing business with regimes in Sudan and Eritrea without even a guarantee that this will reduce the numbers rightfully seeking refuge from their violence?
The answer has to be no.
Maddy Crowther is Head of Communications and Research at the NGO Waging Peace, which campaigns against human rights abuses in Sudan and, together with its sister charity Article 1, supports Sudanese asylum seekers and refugees in the UK. Martin is a patron of the NGO.