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IRIN - Sudan


Inside the EU’s flawed $200 million migration deal with Sudan

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 12:36:28 +0000

As millions of dollars in EU funds flow into Sudan to stem African migration, asylum seekers say they are increasingly trapped, living in a perpetual state of fear and exploitation in this key transit country.   In interviews with over 25 Eritrean and Ethiopian asylum seekers in Khartoum and the eastern city of Kassala, as well as local journalists, and lawyers working on behalf of refugees, IRIN has documented allegations of endemic police abuse, including extortion, violence, and sexual assault.   The pattern of corruption and rights violations uncovered feeds into broader concerns over whether the EU’s migration policies are making a difficult situation worse.   Across Sudan's capital, Khartoum, some 30,000 Eritrean, Ethiopian, and other African refugees are crammed into decrepit, non-descript houses, waiting for their chance to escape the country and make it to Europe.   Sudan’s previously porous northern border with Libya has become increasingly dangerous to cross after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir deployed the former Janjaweed – a paramilitary group implicated in war crimes during the Darfur conflict – in 2015 as border guards.    This militia, re-named the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and integrated into Sudan’s army in January 2017, arrests asylum seekers and hands them over to the police, who detain, fine, and deport them for illegal entry – regardless of whether returning them to their countries will result in torture or imprisonment.      Tortured for money   The Shagarab refugee camp appears out of nowhere, a sprawling, dusty settlement in eastern Sudan near the Eritrean border, two hours by road from the main town of Kassala, through a series of tightly controlled checkpoints that require police permission to pass.   Some 40,000 refugees, primarily Eritreans, are registered at Shagarab, but it feels deserted. For many Eritreans, the camp is only a temporary stop for two or three months before the next stages of their journey, on to Khartoum, and then on to Libya or Egypt, before the final goal of Europe.   Inside Shagarab’s centre for unaccompanied minors, teenagers watch TV and stay glued to their mobile phones, eager to be in contact with the outside world. But some have experienced awful abuse at the hands of traffickers as they escaped from Eritrea – one of the world’s most oppressive states – and into Sudan.   Dawit*, 17, fled Eritrea to escape military conscription – in a country where unpaid army service can last for years – travelling first to Ethiopia and then hiring smugglers to take him into Sudan.   He couldn’t pay the smugglers up front, and so once inside Sudan was trafficked and held for ransom in Hajer, a town almost all Eritrean refugees interviewed by IRIN mentioned as a place to avoid.   “Sudanese smugglers tortured us for the payment,” said Dawit. “They stripped us naked and beat us with whips while our families were on the [telephone] line. New arrivals had two-three days after arrival to pay before being beaten.   “Those who had been there longer were beaten every day. The women fared even worse – men would come, pick them out, and take them away. When they returned, they were bleeding and crying.”   Dawit said that after being held for five days, the smugglers got a call warning them that there was about to be a police raid, and they all escaped.   The tip-off is entirely in keeping with numerous accounts of the involvement of Sudanese officials in the trafficking industry. John Power/IRIN   A history of migration   Sudan has long been a transit country for Eritreans and others on the move, as well as a country people flee from.   Sudan’s increasing criminalisation of refugees and migrants, as well as conditions in Libya, where the EU backs the Libyan coastguard to capture refugees at sea and return them to detention centres, have contributed to a steep drop in the number of people arriving in Italy.   In 2016, 40,773 refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa arrived in Italy; [...]