The European Union has issued a statement urging “all parties in Sudan to exercise the utmost restraint, prevent further violence and ensure the respect of fundamental freedoms.” The EU has supported the African Union’s suspension of Sudan’s membership of the organisation.

But there is another side to the EU’s relationship with Sudan: support for the regime via the Regional Operational Centre in Khartoum (ROCK). Perhaps we should see the EU’s statement date 8th of June [below] as an attempt to head off criticism.

The record is clear.  The EU’s work with the Sudanese regime has strengthened its ability to resist the protest movement of the Sudanese people.

How the EU Sudan relationship developed

In November 2015 European leaders met with their African counterparts in the Maltese capital, Valletta, to try to arrive at a plan to halt African migrants reaching European shores. This was made clear in the accompanying EU press release. ‘The number of migrants arriving to the European Union is unprecedented, and this increased flow is likely to continue. The EU, together with the member states, is taking a wide range of measures to address the challenges, and to establish an effective, humanitarian and safe European migration policy.’[1] The summit led to the drafting of an Action Plan which has guided the EU’s policy objectives on migration and mobility ever since.[2] Some elements of the plan were certainly welcome, including recognition that African states bear the greatest burden of refugees – only a minority of whom actually make the journey to Europe. There was also an understanding that the camps in which so many languish need to be upgraded. Security in the camps must be improved, education and entertainment needs are to be provided, so that young men and women are not simply left to rot. There are even suggestions that some – a tiny, educated minority – might be able to travel via legal routes to European destinations.

The Action Plan also contained elements that were particularly worrying. Paragraph 4 detailed how European institutions would co-operate with the African partners to fight ‘irregular migration, migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings.’ Europe promised to offer training to ‘law enforcement and judicial authorities’ in new methods of investigation and ‘assisting in setting up specialised anti-trafficking and smuggling police units.’

The Action Plan is delivered via the EU-Horn of Africa Migration Initiative, known as the Khartoum Process, the name itself referring to Sudan’s capital city (something of a PR coup for Sudanese authorities). The Process was launched in November 2014 as a forum for political dialogue and cooperation on migration between EU Member States and several countries from the Horn and Eastern Africa. It is an initiative of the European Commission’s Directorate for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME) and Italy, in a clear indication of how it was established to address domestic European concerns, rather than African political realities. Funds are provided in part by the Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration in Africa. A smaller pot of money specifically targets smuggling and trafficking, and is known as the Better Migration Management project led by the German government’s aid agency, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). These are both underwritten by substantial sums of money. The EU provided just under €215 million to Sudan to curb migration by April 2017.[3]

The concrete projects and programmes implemented under the Khartoum Process are often hard to grasp, and have been far from transparent, leading to frustrations between policy makers on the one hand, and civil society representatives and diaspora groups on the other, among whom this approach has been the subject of intense scrutiny and concern.

Concerns spiked when minutes of a meeting of the ambassadors of the 28 EU member states on 23 March 2016 leaked in German magazine Der Spiegel.[4] They contained this chilling warning: ‘Under no circumstances’ should the public learn what was being discussed. The magazine said equipment would be sent to Sudan to assist in the control of its refugee population. ‘…Europe want to send cameras, scanners and servers for registering refugees to the Sudanese regime in addition to training their border police and assisting with the construction of two camps with detention rooms for migrants.’

This precise level of engagement never materialised in the way described, but (as outlined below with the operation of the Regional Operational Centre) many elements of the policy were implemented. Certainly the leak provoked public disquiet. Concerns crystallised around the issue of the EU funding various security actors within Sudan, most notably the RSF. If found to be true this would violate various EU commitments, notably an arms embargo in place dating from the conflict in Darfur. It would also call into question the value of the EU’s Cotonou Agreement, which underpins the EU’s relationship with developing nations in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) region, and membership of which is necessary before the EU can supply funds to state structures. Membership has been denied to Sudan because of the outstanding International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant in place against its President.

Worries became most pronounced after the RSF, and its leader Mohamed Hamdan or ‘Hametti’, starting making public statements about their role patrolling Sudan’s frontiers, and arresting or deterring refugees. ‘Once we dealt with the rebellion in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and Darfur, we immediately turned to the great Sahara desert, especially after the directives from the president of the republic to combat illegal migration,’ Mohamed Hamdan, head of RSF, told Al Jazeera.[5]

The tactics the RSF reported using reflected its historic practices when it was still known as the Janjaweed. Sometimes refugees were killed, sometimes they were forcibly returned to their countries of origin. In May 2016 more than 1,000 Eritreans rounded up in Khartoum and along the Sudanese-Libyan border and forced back to Eritrea. Similarly, more than 100 were sent back in August and September 2017.[6] Such incidents provoked strong condemnation from the UN Refugee Agency.[7]

However, funding of the RSF has turned out not to be exactly the smoking gun expected, though it continues to be a rallying cry for human rights activists and civil society organisations. The EU has been forced to deny any such involvement, for instance stressing in a factsheet and in bold type, ‘The Rapid Support Forces of the Sudanese military do not benefit directly or indirectly from EU funding.[8]

It seems the EU may have struggled to convey this to the RSF itself, which continues to make statements to the effect that it deserves payment for the work already completed on Europe’s behalf. ‘We do the job instead of the EU,’ Hametti said in April 2018. The RSF also threaten to discontinue this work if they are not paid, effectively warning that they could ‘turn on the tap’ again in the event of non-payment. Hametti continued, ‘That’s why they should recognize our efforts and support us as we lost a lot of men, efforts and money — otherwise we will change our minds from carrying out this duty.’[9]

Furthermore, it remains unclear how the EU ensures that the RSF has not and will not benefit from said funds, especially if they are relying on assurances to this effect given by government bodies, like the Ministry of Interior, and without stipulations about end-user accountability. Both the Sudanese Ministry of the Interior and the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs are designated as ‘political partners’ under the BMM.[10] Such ministries are not minded to differentiate between security actors with and without egregious human rights backgrounds. It is apparent that since the Sudanese security services co-ordinate their operations, assistance for one arm of the state inevitably assists another, especially in a country rife with corruption, ranking 175/180 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2017, the shared fifth worst score globally.[11] In any case, what systems does the EU have in place to weed out individual members of the RSF who are assigned to tasks undertaken by the regular police or other parts of the security apparatus?

EU-Sudan security cooperation

There are also more direct plans to integrate Sudanese, European, and other Horn of African security actors. A Regional Operational Centre (ROCK) is being established in Khartoum.[13] This is its role, as described by the EU:

“The primary focus of the Regional Operational Centre, which will be developed to support this cooperation, will be human trafficking and people smuggling. Greater cooperation between the countries of the region to gather, share and analyse information, in accordance with relevant international and regional principles and standards, will lead to better and more informed decisions on migration management. This will result in more effective joint approaches to prevent and fight transnational crime. It will also protect victims of trafficking and smuggling. This is in line with the declared aim of the AU-HoAI Technical Working Group on Law Enforcement, whose mandate is to conceptualise and develop a mechanism for information exchange and sharing.”

A lengthy New York Times article clarifies the function of the Regional Operational Centre.[14] ‘The planned countertrafficking coordination center in Khartoum — staffed jointly by police officers from Sudan and several European countries, including Britain, France and Italy — will partly rely on information sourced by NISS (National Intelligence), according to the head of the immigration police department, Gen. Awad Elneil Dhia. The regular police also get occasional support from the RSF on countertrafficking operations in border areas, General Dhia said. “They have their presence there and they can help,” General Dhia said. “The police is not everywhere, and we cannot cover everywhere.”’

It is reported that the German police have reached an agreement with their Sudanese counterparts to provide technology and equipment to fight trafficking and illegal migration.[15] The Sudanese Director General of Police, Lieutenant-General Hashim Osman al-Hussein, said the Germans had promised to provide his police-force with advanced crime-detection equipment and training. This is confirmed by the EU, in its outline of the role of the ROCK.[16]

The document details what the ROCK is expected to achieve. ‘Capacity building for the development of related political and legislative frameworks to allow structured information sharing and joint operations at regional level. This could involve the signature of relevant cooperation agreements between the Horn of Africa countries, defining the national focal points that are authorised to exchange information with the Regional Operational Centre, the process for this information sharing, the type of data to be collected and the governance arrangements and principles, with full respect of human rights and data protection protocols.’ The document then spells out how the resources of the EU’s own border agency (FRONTEX) and the international police organisation (Interpol) will be put at the disposal of the ROCK and the African security agencies, including those of Sudan. The same document accepts that there is a risk of the ‘misuse or mishandling of data collection’ and the ‘use of data for purposes beyond H/T (human trafficking)/ smuggling and serious organised crime.’

It remains to be seen how, for example, Britain’s security services – who will allegedly supply up to half of the Technical Advisor posts within the ROCK[17] – will cooperate effectively with their Sudanese counterparts, and whether they can guarantee that information gathered under the aegis of ROCK is not used for repressive purposes.

Whether the EU has, or has not, funded the RSF does not mean that EU support has not had a direct impact on the ground. It has served to embolden security actors, and caused them to adopt new objectives that have little to do with the protection of those migrating through their territory.

These developments add to the ability of the Sudanese government to control its own people, providing intelligence and information to the regime.


[1] 2015 Valletta summit on migration – background on EU action

[2] 2015 Valletta summit on migration – Action Plan

Click to access action_plan_en.pdf

[3] EU Observer, EU funds for Sudan may worsen fate of refugees, 10 April 2017

[4] Der Spiegel, EU to Work with African Despot to Keep Refugees Out

[5] Al Jazeera, Sudan’s RSF unit accused of abuses against migrants

[6] Ibid.

[7] Radio Dabanga, UNHCR ‘deeply concerned’ over asylum-seekers deported from Sudan to Eritrea, 6 September 2017

[8] European External Action Service, Delegation of the European Union to Sudan, EU actions on migration in Sudan, 17 October 2017

[9] Bloomberg, Sudan militia demands EU payment for blocking African migrants, 13 April 2018

[10] GTZ Newsletter June 2017, Better Migration Management, Horn of Africa


[12] SIHA Network, International Refugee Rights Initiative, School of Oriental and African Studies, Tackling the root causes of human trafficking and smuggling from Eritrea: the need for empirically grounded EU policy on mixed migration in the Horn of Africa, November 2017,


[14] Patrick Kingsley, By Stifling Migration, Sudan’s Feared Secret Police Aid Europe, New York Times, 22 April 2018


[16] EU, Regional Operational Centre in support of the Khartoum Process and AU-Horn of Africa Initiative Action Document, December 2016

Click to access regional-operational-centre_en.pdf

[17] Email from British Embassy representative.

[18] The Guardian, People smuggler who Italians claim to have jailed is living freely in Uganda, 11 April 2018,


[20] IRIN, Inside the EU’s flawed $200 million migration deal with Sudan, 30 January 2018

EU actions on Migration in Sudan

Bruxelles, 08/06/2018 – 08:18, UNIQUE ID: 171017_14


Sudan is an important hub for migrants from across Africa. As a country of origin, transit and destination, it lies at the heart of migratory routes connecting East and West Africa to the Mediterranean Sea and Europe, the Gulf States and Southern Africa.


Sudan is also the 2nd largest refugee hosting country in Africa[1] and notably due to its ongoing internal conflicts has the 2nd largest population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the continent, estimated at 3.2 million.[2] Around 7.1 million people in Sudan, including many refugees, asylum seekers and IDPs, are in need of humanitarian assistance. The EU’s engagement on migration in Sudan is therefore vital, particularly for the benefit of the people in Sudan and the wider region.


For decades, the EU has assisted refugees and IDPs in Sudan. Building on this support, EU’s current engagement aims at:

  • providing durable solutions for refugees, IDPs and host communities by increasing their protection and supporting their long-term development;
  • increasing stability in peripheral areas, which are also major migratory routes by strengthening the resilience of communities;
  • improving migration management by contributing to disrupt networks of traffickers and smugglers, affording protection to their victims and offering opportunities for their voluntary return and reintegration into their countries of origin.


Cooperation on migration is part of a broader EU engagement in Sudan. A human rights-based approach is at the heart of all EU interventions. The EU leads efforts to promote respect for human rights and a conducive environment for civil society in Sudan which is an essential part of the country’s political transformation. The EU also supports to the peace process in Sudan led by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP). Besides being an important provider of development assistance (e.g. health, education, livelihoods) in Sudan, the EU is also instrumental in supplying humanitarian aid to people in need.

EU-Sudan relations continue to be impacted by the action of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the country’s decision not to ratify the revised Cotonou Agreement. The latter means that the EU does not provide any financial support to the Government of Sudan. All EU funded activities in Sudan are implemented by EU Member States development agencies, international organisations, NGOs and private sector entities.

In 2016, the EU established a High-Level Dialogue on Migration with Sudan with the aim to curb human trafficking and smuggling of migrants and to protect the rights of all migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and victims of trafficking. The dialogue enables the EU to raise issues of concern with the Sudanese authorities, including respect of the principle of non-refoulement and reflects the priorities put forward at the 2015 Valletta Summit on Migration. Sudan is also an active member of the Khartoum Process, a platform for political cooperation and regional collaboration on migration amongst the countries along the migration route between the Horn of Africa and Europe.


The EU does not provide any direct financial support to the Government of Sudan. Instead it supports a range of projects for the benefit of the people in the country.

The Special Measure is contributing to these objectives by enhancing the quality and access to healthcare (e.g. Strengthening Resilience of IDPs, Returnees and Host Communities in West Darfur), education (e.g. Education Quality Improvement Programme), and jobs (e.g. Fostering Smallholder Capacities and Access to Markets), by increasing food security and nutrition standards (e.g. Improving Nutrition and Reducing Stunting in Eastern Sudan project). Sudan is also part of the EU response to the food security and El Niño crises and of the Regional Development and Protection Programme (RDPP) for the Horn of Africa.

Sudan also benefits from several EU Emergency Trust fund For Africa’s regional projects, such as:

A regional project Addressing Mixed Migration Flows in East Africa (AMMF) improves the self-reliance of displaced persons and host communities, supports the establishment of safe centres for migrants and reinforces the fight against trafficking and smuggling of migrants.

The Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) addresses root causes of instability by supporting peacebuilding and stabilisation in Sudan e.g. through encouraging mediation and dialogue or promoting equitable access to and transparent management of natural resources.

People in Sudan also benefit from EU humanitarian aid, which includes support to refugees, IDPs and local communities in forced displacement contexts to ensure life-saving emergency assistance focusing on basic services such as health, water and shelter as well as protection and food security. These funds are implemented directly by international NGOs, international organisations or UN agencies. The assistance follows a needs-based approach and targets the most vulnerable. In 2017, the EU provided €46 million to respond to humanitarian needs in Sudan.


  • No EU direct financial support goes to the Government of Sudan. This means that no EU funding is decentralised nor channelled through the Government. All activities are carried out by EU Member States development agencies, international organisations, NGOs and private sector entities. The EU’s implementing partners maintain full control over the funds disbursed and are closely scrutinised by the EU Delegation through strict and regular monitoring during projects’ implementation.
  • The Rapid Support Forces of the Sudanese military do not benefit directly or indirectly from EU funding.
  • The EU does not equip Sudanese border forces with dual-use equipment. Any decisions to provide civilian equipment to the Sudanese authorities are taken on the basis of thorough case-by-case assessment carried out by the EU, following a stringent procurement process and on the basis of comprehensive procurement principles.[3] No military equipment can be provided due to the arms embargo in place.
  • The EU does not assist or fund the Government of Sudan or other relevant agencies in creating detention facilities for migrants.



[1] Estimated at 925,000 according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

[2] According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)