Late last month, a prominent delegation from the British Government arrived in Khartoum to engage in talks with the Sudanese government. This was a delegation of the highest-level to visit the country since 1989. The last three decades have seen very sour relations between the two countries until last year, when a delegation from the United Kingdom arrived in Khartoum for talks on improving the mutual relations. As per a Facebook post published on the UK embassy’s Facebook page, this high-level delegation was headed by Neil Wigan, the Director for Africa at the the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The statement identified that the two countries will begin the strategic dialogue that they began last year and this dialogue will be on conflict resolution, cultural linkages between the two countries, humanitarian aid and of course, human trafficking. In January 2017, a high-level EU delegation hailed the role of Sudan in combatting human trafficking during a meeting with the Sudanese Foreign Affairs Minister, Ibrahim Ghandour at the Sudanese embassy in Addis Ababa.
Since the beginning of this year, Sudan continued to receive visits by EU delegations and many of these visits and meetings revolved around the issue of human trafficking. Sometimes the visits are by unlikely allies, for example in January 2017, the Sudanese and the Belarusian president met in Khartoum and during this meeting, the president of Sudan said that his country continues to fight human trafficking and irregular migration. The two countries signed a number of investment and military deals. Sudan has for many years purchased military equipment from Belarus.
Since late 2014, following the Valetta conference in Malta, Sudan continued to receive financial support to combat irregular migration. With each passing month and a new grant arriving, the government would criticize its EU partners for not supporting it enough and would ask for more support after releasing yet another report on the surge in illegal migration.
In Mid-March 2017, Sudan said that the EU failed it when it comes to commitment to combat illegal migration, this happened after Sudan has asked for logistical air and maritime support and also after an official from the foreigners/non-nationals unit at the Ministry of Interior announced that at least 1.5 million illegal migrants use Sudan as a transit country on their way to Europe. This figure which has yet to be released in a well-researched report has created more pressure on the EU partners to continue their unwavering support.
As per a report by an EU delegation that visited the country in December 2016, the EU has allocated 115 million euros for Sudan from the EU Trust fund in addition to 1.88 billion euros and 100 million euros allocated under the “special measure for Sudan”. The funds are allegedly only channeled through International organizations. However, it should be noted that any work with refugees or on migration is implemented based on a memorandum of understanding between the Commission of Refugees which is essentially a government body.
Even with Sudan’s insistence to the EU and the international community at large that it has achieved much in terms of fighting irregular migration through building the capacity of its institutions and creating special ones to do so, the situation on the ground remains indicative that there is confusion on what to do.
Last week, White Nile state has announced its decision to establish a special court for drug trafficking and human trafficking.
Looking at the situation with critical eye, it appears that the police system wants to “milk” this support from the EU and support its ever-expanding police and security system, however, this expansion is not even guided by a proper strategy or plan. Namely, there are already drug and human trafficking courts in states like Kassala and Gedarif and so far, they’ve been slow, taking over a year to litigate a case not to mention that most cases of exploitation and abuse of refugees are not taken on by the court and this means that those courts need serious capacity-building. Instead of establishing a new court in White Nile state which is actually not part of the migration routes by the target community , the already established courts need to be strengthened.
A very stark reason for the haphazard work on migration and trafficking as well as the lack of organization could be the undermining of the work of the National Anti-Trafficking Committee which is a high-level committee founded in 2014 and tasked with coordinating between the different bodies working on the issues from the judiciary to the security apparatus and even with international organizations. This committee is an attempt to organize the national efforts on anti-trafficking through informing this work by a national strategy.
So far, the committee has no venue, no funding and no actual work and it took the committee two years to present a national strategy. Moreover, it is composed of members from different ministries and they are changed in a regular basis which makes them weak when it comes to knowledge on human trafficking issues.
Looking at the situation on the ground juxtaposed with the ongoing visits and collaborations between Sudan and other countries, one needs to keep remembering that Sudan’s involvement in the business of combatting human trafficking and irregular migration has changed its geopolitical importance in the world and has elevated its importance to regional and international actor. This new status has offered impunity to the sudanese government to crackdown and repress any activities that could be packaged and marketed to their allies as limiting migration. This new power and role given to Sudan is dangerous seeing its human rights record and the fact that the borders are too overstretched to be controlled, however, the ongoing propaganda by the different governmental instruments will mean that the different delegations will continue to pour into the country and make their business plans on behalf of refugees and migrants.