Khartoum Process

Published May 5th, 2021 - written by: Louise Sullivan

Louise Sullivan worked as an educator in Sudan and Horn of Africa for seven years and as a consultant for “Better Migration Management” Phase 2 Component 4 Awareness Raising 2017-2019.

The context in which the Khartoum process was conceived

In October 2013 a boat carrying hundreds of migrants from Libya sank off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, resulting in a recorded 359 deaths. The then European Commissioner for Home Affairs stated: “Let’s make sure what happened in Lampedusa will be a wakeup call to increase solidarity and mutual support and prevent similar tragedies in the future”. Since January 2014 to February 2021 recorded migrant deaths during Mediterranean crossings stand at 21,548. In 2020 an average of 10 people each week died or went missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. If tragedies have not been prevented, have solidarity and mutual support been increased?

The European Union Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative, better known as the Khartoum Process, was launched at a Ministerial Conference in November 2014 in Rome. It is structured by the EU’s Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM). GAMM has four pillars: (1) organising and facilitating legal migration and mobility; (2) preventing and combatting irregular migration and eradicating human trafficking; (3) maximizing the development impact of migration and mobility; (4) promoting international protection and enhancing external asylum.

The Khartoum Process is built on the idea that the burden of preventing and managing migration should be on the region of origin. The Khartoum Process supports this control of migration by African states, rather than reform of the state actors whose behaviour contributes to migration.

The Khartoum Process extends the borders of the European Union into African states and offloads responsibility for managing those borders onto Africa, rewarding tighter controls and reduction in migrant arrivals to the EU.

In 2015 the European Union created a 2 Billion Euro fund to address multiple aspects of migration across the Mediterranean: The European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Stability and Addressing the Root Causes of Irregular Migration and Displaced Persons in Africa (EUTF for Africa). The Khartoum Process was mandated with overseeing the implementation of initiatives funded by this new instrument. This report analyses the EUTF funded efforts of the Khartoum Process in Sudan, including interventions in trafficking and smuggling of migrants, border management, awareness raising and development programmes. Sudan is the focus due to its strategic importance as both a transit hub for and source of irregular migrants. The author has spent seven years in Sudan and this report is informed by the situations she experienced and the people she met.

The governments participating and stated goals

The Khartoum Process was signed by 49 countries. These are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Sudan, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Tunisia and United Kingdom. Since the first meeting in Rome, Libya, Norway, Switzerland and Uganda have also become members of the process.

The Khartoum Process is led by a Steering Committee comprised of five EU member states (Italy, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden), five African countries (Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan), the European Commission, the European External Action Service and the African Union Commission.

Co-operating organizations are: European Commission Directorate-General (DG) on Migration and Home Affairs, DG Development and Cooperation, DG for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, the European External Action Service, European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX), International Organization for Migration (IOM),

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Programmes under the Khartoum Process are managed by organizations from EU members, including GIZ, and the interior ministries of Italy, UK and France.

The current chair of the Process is The Netherlands (2020-21). Past Chairs include the governments of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt. The government of Eritrea commits well-documented human rights abuses;the government of Ethiopia is, at the time of writing, bombing its own citizens in a civil war which has displaced over 500,000 people, and the current government of Egypt took power in a military coup. Partnering with governments whose citizens are frequently granted refugee status if they make it to the EU is a choice that requires analysis. The objectives of the Khartoum Process are to enhance cooperation and dialogue around migration and mobility and facilitate practical measures to combat human trafficking and smuggling of migrants. The five major areas to address as stated in the Valletta Action Plan of 2015 are:

  • Development benefits of migration and addressing root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement;
  • Legal migration and mobility;
  • Protection and asylum;
  • Prevention of and fight against irregular migration, migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings; and
  • Return, readmission and reintegration.

Khartoum Process in practice: Sudan

Sudan is a major migrant hub, as a country of origin, transit and destination. It connects migratory routes from East and West Africa to the EU and the Middle East. There are also currently over 2,000,000 people internally displaced. As well as being a starting point and a host for migrants, Sudan has an active cross-border migrant transport network. Prior to 2015, many of these transport facilitators were ordinary Sudanese drivers who were approached by people desiring to get to Libya or Egypt. Since 2015, increased security at borders has narrowed the providers down to those who have no fear of border patrols, namely the military and security forces themselves, who have profited on both sides of the migration-security nexus.

Reports from Oxfam and research by SOAS submitted to the UK parliament, as well asarticles by the UN-established IRIN, state that the lack of transparency and absence of participation by concerned communities means absence of accountability for how funds are used. Despite the areas outlined in the Valletta Plan founding document, Oxfam states that of 400 million euro allocated only 3% has been spent on developing safe legal migration pathways and the remainder on migration control.

Funding structures and oversight

The Khartoum Process’ funding is complex and opaque with a large variety of European Union donors contributing, however on the Khartoum process website only two donors are mentioned as examples:  The European Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) and the European Union Trust Fund. 73% of the funding comes from the EUTF, 20% from the EU budget and 7% from member state contributions and other donors.

A breakdown of the funding allocations highlights the focus of the Khartoum Process.

400 million Euro has been allocated to migration management, 55% of which goes to programs designed to restrict irregular migration through containment and control. 4% goes to raising awareness, 25% to implementing policy reforms for returns, 13% to improving identification of countries’ nationals and 3% to developing safe and regular migration routes. About 248 million Euro is assigned to security and peace-building projects, though details on these are limited. Between 121 million euro and 161 million euro (about 7% of the total EUTF budget) is dedicated to working directly with security forces. Security projects are implemented by Interpol, Civipol, member states’ national cooperation agencies and private and public companies. 63% (1,1 million euro) of the EUTF budget is allocated to development cooperation – 86% to improving access to basic services, economic opportunities and resilience building, 9% to good governance and 5% to protection.

Development funding in Sudan is channelled through UN agencies, European Union aid agencies and local NGOs. Local NGOs must be all registered with the Sudan government, and first-hand experience revealed that often they are a way to channel funds into the pockets of state actors. The Sudanese Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), must be consulted when partnering with any local NGO and they control which NGOs can operate and what they do. HAC is a political body and under former President Omar El Bashir it was an arm of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).NISS has been accused of torture, rape, and murder and its head, Salah Gosh, was refused entry to the USA in 2019 due to his human rights record despite having an American passport. This author was arrested by NISS agents when going to visit refugee teachers in a camp in Khartoum, as camps can only be visited when accompanied by a security official. Any organisation going on field trips is assigned a security official to accompany them. Awareness raising focus group meetings in Sudan all had a security official present, which limited the participation of any undocumented migrants. Since Bashir’s fall it is unknown whether HAC is still controlled by security forces, however this remains the widely stated belief of any Sudanese involved in development or any who know of HAC.

The EU states categorically that it does not provide any financial support to the Government of Sudan.The set-up of development work in Sudan, where everything must be reported to the government and any organisation must be accepted by the government, makes it unclear how the EU can be categorical in this statement.

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the British Council oversee the on the ground work of selected Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in each state. All CSOs are vetted by HAC. There is little belief at high levels of all involved organisations that the work of CSOs can reduce irregular migration. Thus scant attention is paid to evaluating the work of CSOs. The experience of the author was that it was simply ‘ticking boxes’ that the funds had been handed out to the CSOs and no way to confirm any outcomes from their work.

Types of projects being implemented and controversies

The Khartoum Process aims to decrease trafficking and smuggling (migrant crossings to Europe) through increased securitization of borders, raising awareness of legal migration pathways and the dangers of irregular migration and addressing root causes through development projects. Development projects implemented with EUTF funding aim to “respond to the diverse causes of instability, irregular migration and forced displacement.” According to the EUTF website 28 development projects are being implemented in Sudan, you can find them here. The majority have the aim of ‘strengthening resilience’ totalling 432,610,000 Euro. The EUTF website states high numbers of beneficiaries. However, as refugees claiming asylum are required to reside in camps, and undocumented migrants are not able to legally work, it is unclear how EUTF funded development projects benefit them.

There are few legal migration pathways for those considering border crossings and all potential migrants met by this author had knowledge of and videos from Libya on their phones of migrant torture for ransom. The idea of ‘root causes’ of migration that can be solved through ‘development’ is academically unsubstantiated. Thus the focus of the Khartoum Process is on border controls and containment of irregular migrants.

Better Migration Management

The Better Migration Management (BMM) programme is a multi-year, multi-partner programme co-funded by the EUTF and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. It is coordinated by the GIZ. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), Expertise France, Italian State Police, CIVIPOL and the British Council are the strangely grouped implementing partners.

The objectives of the Better Migration Management programme include:

(II) To strengthen the capacity of all institutions and agencies responsible for migration and border management (such as front-line officials, law enforcement officers, or judicial bodies), notably by training and technical assistance, by improving procedures for investigating and prosecuting cases of trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants, by improving data collection and promoting sharing of information, by supplying government offices and border management posts with essential tools and equipment, and possibly with infrastructure development, by promoting improved coordination between different institutions and agencies involved.

In Sudan, the exact meaning of this highlighted wording has led to much controversy and repeated denials by the EU of providing equipment for border guards and funding the rebranded Janjiweed (Rapid Support forces - RSF), a militia allegedly responsible for carrying out the genocide in Darfur. However, Mohammad Dagalo (known as Hemmeti), the leader of the RSF, has also repeatedly stated on the record, that he is ‘doing the work of the EU’ and regularly gives figures for the number of ‘illegal migrants’ his forces have detained and deported.

Martin Weiss, the BMM project head in Germany, insists the programme aims to protect migrants. “BMM is not about border surveillance, but about protecting refugees, facilitating migration, and improving conditions for people who are fleeing their homes,” he wrote in an email. “At present, many refugees are vulnerable to violence, slavery or rape. We want to provide an effective response to the problem.”

It is difficult to see how the stated goals of BMM, and the programs it implements, improve outcomes for refugees. Prosecuting traffickers would assist refugees only if there were simple paths to asylum, legal work opportunities and migration options, but this is not the case.

The fight against smuggling and trafficking

The Khartoum Process conflates trafficking and smuggling, criminalising both. Many of those who help migrants through countries and across borders feel they are providing a needed service. Increased securitization has both increased risks to migrants and increase profit margins for smugglers. This has led to a monopoly on smuggling by criminal gangs and militias with government contacts, rather than individuals who feel they can help and make some money at the same time. The author knows of people who before 2016 were regularly approached at taxi stops in Red Sea State (Eastern Sudan) by migrants hoping to get to Egypt and willing to pay for a ride. Now, these drivers say they would not dare to do it for fear of being harmed by ‘government gangs’ who have taken over.

Capacity Building

Building the capacity of security forces in Sudan is enhancing the power of institutions whose main role has been to oppress citizens. In Sudan, the law requires asylum seekers to stay in camps, so any development programmes have little benefit in increasing their opportunities. Reports from migrants about torture and rape at the hands of security forces, payment to militia members for transportation or bribes for release have been detailed in reports by Oxfam and Human Rights Watch. In Sudan, it is generally accepted by the Sudanese public that the EU funds the RSF to control borders and that funding provides the sophisticated weaponry they carry on the streets. The fact that the BMM website states that EUTF funds provide technical assistance and essential tools and equipment for border management supports Dagalo’s claims against that of the EU. Thousands of Eritreans have been deported in violation of international law. Forced returns by air from Libya to Sudan in 2020 are documented on social media and anecdotally.

Sources state that UNHCR provided motorbikes to border police in Kassala State in East Sudan. Minutes from a BMM Meeting (May 2019) state: No training involving the Sudanese Police is allowed without receiving prior approval from EU Delegation suggesting that approval for police training may be given. Details of the kind of projects implemented with Sudan’s security forces come directly from the leader of the rebranded Janjiweed, the RSF, Hemmeti. He regularly reports the number of migrants that have been ‘arrested’ and deported at the Eritrean and Libyan borders.

Awareness Raising

Under the Khartoum process ‘Awareness Raising’ activities have been and continue to be held across Horn of Africa countries as a central component of EU’s migration management strategies. Awareness’ activities, aimed at educating potential migrants about legal migration pathways, were seen to be ridiculous by the Sudanese working on the project who were expected to hold focus groups giving information about employment opportunities, the rights of refugees and migrants and how to migrate legally.

CSOs are funded to hold focus groups in areas with large numbers of migrants, informing them of the dangers of irregular migration and alternative options available to them. Sudanese laws prohibit employment of foreign nationals without valid work permits and has an encampment policy for those who claim asylum.

The promotion of fictions (i.e. it is not possible to work legally without employer sponsorship; there are no legal migration pathways for the average Sudanese; and to claim asylum one must be in a camp and not work) makes the intentions of this strategy unclear. The pointlessness of these focus groups has not stopped a second round being funded, despite the main activity during these groups being the disbursement of refreshments.

Information Gathering and Exchange

In 2017, the Regional Operation Centre in Khartoum (ROCK) was established with 5 million Euro in funding. Its purpose is to ‘share and analyse information’ to better manage migration. It was closed between June and September 2019 after allegations that it provided training to the RSF. EU representatives stated that the ROCK centre was closed to ‘protect the safety of its staff’. Notably, the Civipol website states that the ROCK is set up for the benefit of a consortium of European Union Member States (EU MS), consisting of France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain as associate partner and Germany as an observer, and in partnership with INTERPOL and the African Union. A new Continental Operations Centre, established by the African Union, opened in December last year, with the same aims of information sharing to improve migration management and eradicate migrant smuggling and trafficking. It is unclear how the African Union Centre differs from that of Civipol. The EU stated that there would be no exchange of data between the two centres, but the new centre would ‘implement lessons learned’ by ROCK.

How projects are evaluated

There have been no external evaluations of programs implemented under the Khartoum process. Monitoring and evaluation specialists are hired by implementing organisations. However, it is the experience of this author that evaluation is a tick box exercise and involves counting numbers of participants rather than changes in behaviour or improvements in opportunities.

Lack of engagement with local communities leads to missed opportunities. For example, the Rashaida, an Arab nomadic tribe in east Sudan, are infamous traffickers, taking migrants to Libya then selling or ransoming them. Local people know who these Rashaida are and can point them out to anyone who asks. However, the Rashaida continue to take people from camps in East Sudan for money. Locals state they don’t think any officials, including those working for UNHCR, care.

Independent evaluations by Oxfam and SOAS and reports in local Sudanese media, state that the Khartoum Process activities in Sudan have endangered lives and empowered traffickers. These have led to denials by the EU and nothing has changed in programme implementation except for increases in funding.

Questionable benefits and problematic outcomes

It is unclear how any of the development, capacity building and awareness raising programs have benefited migrants and potential migrants. Increased border controls and empowered security forces cause migrants to endure greater dangers, hence greater profits for smugglers and traffickers. Reports from migrants of torture, extortion and deportations have increased since the establishment of the Khartoum process. Thousands of Eritrean nationals have been deported from Sudan or prevented entering, without access to the asylum claim process. Sudanese have been returned from Libya and Chad, also without due process. Mild protestations from UNHCR about Eritrean deportations in 2016 have faded away to silence as the UNHCR in Sudan faces its own accusations of corruption.

Laws which have been updated since the fall of Bashir include removal of the “exit permit”-requirement for Sudanese citizens flying overseas. However, Sudanese citizens leaving the country by air need to have visas for European countries so they are not of a concern to the EU, having already been ‘vetted’. Laws regarding work permits, the encampment policy and labour rights for foreign citizens to prevent exploitation remain unchanged, since the Sudan Passports and Immigration Act 1994.

With these policies, it is difficult to see how development programs under the Khartoum process would benefit potential irregular migrants. Despite pillars 1, 3 and 4 of GAMM focusing on enhancing legal migration pathways and the development impacts of migration the governance and legal situation in Sudan and the EU limit possible outcomes of programmes in these areas. As a result, the Khartoum Process initiatives are focusing on border security and containment of migrants and potential migrants.

The migration control aims of the Khartoum Process are also at odds with the stated desires of the Sudanese government. At a meeting at the British Embassy in Khartoum in 2018, to discuss the context of awareness raising activities as part of The Khartoum process, the then Head of the National Population Council directly asked for assistance with coping with the hundreds of thousands of displaced South Sudanese people in Khartoum. The Sudanese representative expressed concern for their welfare, the lack of possibilities for integration, lack of decent employment and high crime rates in the South Sudanese camps. She was completely ignored by the European representatives. Unstated was the fact that South Sudanese do not get on boats to Europe and therefore were not of interest to the funders, whose ‘collaborative dialogue’ extended only to conversations about subjects determined by the EU.

However, the reduction in migrant arrivals to Europe from the Horn of Africa may be the real measure of success for the EU. Solving irregular migration by making it more difficult, in collaboration with the states and institutions responsible for causing large number of irregular migrants, seems to be the guiding idea of the Khartoum Process. The terms of the ‘partnership’ itself are structured by the EU.

The Future

Irregular migrant arrivals to the EU decreased from 119, 369 in 2017 to 11,471 in 2019, but are on the rise again, with 34,154 arrivals in 2020. In the final quarter of last year, arrivals to Italy and Spain from North Africa had increased by 176% compared to the same period in 2019. Sudanese represented 28% of arrivals to Malta. Interceptions in 2020 by the so-called Libyan coastguard increased by 25% in 2020. 23% (or 1,319) of arrivals to Europe so far in 2021 have been Sudanese. The RSF is now the most powerful part of the Sudanese military and it is a widely held opinion that Janjiweed leader Hemmeti is the most powerful member of the Transitional Military Council, and is on track to become President in 2022.

The situation in Tigray causing Ethiopians to flood across the border to east Sudan in 2020 contributed to a 343% increase in registered asylum seekers. Many of these Ethiopians have family members already in Sudan and in Europe and will make their way from Kassala to Khartoum and beyond. There have been reports that Tigrayans have been deported from Khartoum back to Um Rakuba, the camp in Kassala. However, the high profile of the Tigray crisis may result in better protections for these new arrivals.

With no increase in legal migration options, a collapsed Sudanese economy with over 300% inflation, and increased conflict in all corners of Sudan, it is doubtful how any of the programmes implemented under the Khartoum process can improve the lives of migrants and potential migrants in Sudan. Increased data gathering, surveillance of potential migrants and border control all lead to increased dangers for migrants and greater profits for increasingly sophisticated networks of traffickers.

State prevention of irregular migration forms the basis of criminalizing irregular border crossings. The fact that the term ‘illegal migrant’ has become commonplace, despite not existing under international law, is an outcome of EU’s border management strategies. The journey of a migrant on a boat has become a criminal act committed by a criminal. Those who facilitate the journey are criminal masterminds. This supports and mirrors repressive government attitudes, for example, Eritreans and until this year, Sudanese, require special ‘exit permits’ to leave their countries legally. The reasons people migrate are complex, historically relevant and belie linear discussions of ‘push-pull’ factors. Dealing with reasons which may have roots in the murky waters of global inequalities, wage differentials and continued colonisation of resources is far too complex and uncomfortable. African people smugglers, risking people’s lives for profit, are an easy target and perhaps it is the creation of this narrative which is more important than stopping the boats. Constituencies at home can be placated about growing inequalities and a shrinking job market by the demonising of the ‘other’.

Annex: “Main actors in irregular migration in Sudan

Back to index