Frank-Walter Steinmeier: We must get to the root causes of the reasons for flight.
Thomas de Maizière: The tragedy has its origins in the countries of origin.
Angela Merkel: We will work on overcoming the causes of light.²
To ask about the perspectives of an European anti-war movement in the present is to understand how war casts its shadow elsewhere and how the shadows here fuel and sustain the war elsewhere, preparing the ground for further violence, even if the weapons may be silent. It means not only clearly identifying the warring parties and their interests everywhere, no matter under what flag they gather, but also distancing ourselves from the idea of war as a geopolitical chess game in which we Europeans, pondering world politics with friends, play the "right" piece. It means understanding, from the perspective of the people affected, what the reality of war is, how the force of its destruction reaches far beyond its declared end, how its consequences and causes are far more complex than the short attention span of "public opinion" or politicians driven by election forecasts can conceive. And it means to call the cynical politics of Europe and its representatives by name, when they block the escape routes of those seeking protection from violence or weaken the right to asylum, and in doing so invoke a "humanitarian refugee policy":
"Only in this way - and only in this way - can the reception of those seeking protection find lasting acceptance and recognition among the general population"
Statement of the Social Democratic Party on the "Ordered Repatriation Law" ³
Marked by war and experienced in the commemoration of the victims and heroes as well as in the memory of the barbarians and their followers in the Second World War, the declarations of the nations of Europe and the European "peace community" attest to the postulated belief that human dignity is inviolable; that the protection of this dignity takes precedence over all distinctions of origin, skin colour, gender, faith, political status and personal conviction. It is not only the millions of Syrians displaced by Assad's war against the population, but also the permanent state of war or state of emergency in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan or Eritrea that confronts European policymakers with a crying urgency to live up to this creed. What we see is lip service and political measures that diligently put the opposite into practice. The list of lip service is long: new additions include the allegedly positive intention to combat the causes of flight. "Curbing the root causes of irregular migration in close cooperation with regional partners" is a variation of the phrase that has been proliferating since the beginning of the so-called refugee crisis in official documents of the EU Commission, as well as development aid organisations and think tanks commissioned by it. Originally meant as a progressive and critical call against a policy of national isolation, militarised security policy and neo-colonial intervention, the fight against the causes of flight is being turned into its opposite by European governments. The uprising of the Sudanese people against decades of repression by the military regime of Omar al-Bashir and his successors reveals the demons that European "migration management" has brought into the world. It also gives us insight into the policy of fighting against the causes of flight in the Horn of Africa.
Sudans Revolution and the European fight against the causes of flight
For years, Sudanese civil society organized in silence until in December 2018 open protests broke out against the regime of president Umar al-Bashir and caused a wave of civil disobedience and strikes that brought al-Bashir down on April 11, 2019.
In a hurry military leaders tried to leave the sinking ship of al-Bashir and formed the Transitional Military Council (TMC), with the supposed intention of overseein the democratic transformation of the country. The leading representatives of the uprising, the coalition of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), significant among them the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), agreed with the military on rapidly handing over the administration to civilian structures and the preparation of democratic elections. Unsurprisingly, the TMC proved to be the undead arm of the old regime, not willing to comply with these agreements and continued to play for time. On June 3, 2019, the TMC reacted to ongoing protests by crushing a non-violent sit-in in Khartoum. In the early morning hours, units of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) stormed the protest camp. More than a hundred people were murdered, and dozens of women and men were raped, tortured and kidnapped.⁴ Access to the internet was blocked nationwide for over a month. The last representatives of the independent international press had their work permits revoked. For a short time, the Transitional Council tried to deny all responsibility for the massacre. Since this was implausible because of the leading role of the RSF commander, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo ("Hemeti"), in the Military Transitional Council, "mistakes" were admitted afterwards.
While the opposition remained unimpressed by such assertions and called for a renewed general strike and protests, the German government called for an informal meeting on 21 June to discuss the situation in Sudan. The list of participants did not include a single representative of the Sudanese opposition, but rather the explicit supporters of the Sudanese military: regime representatives of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which immediately after the fall of al-Bashir provided the TMC with three billion dollars in support.⁵ This was because Saudi Arabia and the Emirates wanted to rely on units of the RSF (since 2015)⁶ to continue fighting on behalf of the Saudi war coalition in Yemen. And because the Egyptian president Sisi feared that resistance in his own country against his military's tyranny will be rekindled by the strong democracy movement in Sudan. Against the background of approved German arms exports worth one billion euros in the first five months⁷ of 2019 alone to precisely those questionable partners and their role as “guarantors of stability” in Europe’s migration control, it is not surprising that the Federal Foreign Office preferred to hold the aforementioned meeting on 21 June behind closed doors, without comment and without attracting media attention. This plan did not work out, and in response to the public protest of the Sudanese diaspora in Berlin, the Federal Foreign Office justified its meeting by declaring that "unilateral measures" would not bring about a solution and that cooperation with "regional partners" would therefore be sought.⁸ A look behind the scenes of European migration management in the Mediterranean and the Horn of Africa reveals what kind of cooperation is meant here and who’s considered to be an important regional partner.
Deterring migrants in the Mediterranean: The obsession with Pull-Factors⁹
After the number of refugee arrivals via the central Mediterranean route reached its initial peak in 2013 and 2014, Europe’s governments and the EU Commission worked at breakneck speed to stem their self-diagnosed loss of control with new comprehensive strategies. In line with former German foreign minister de Maizière's statements to the Italian coast guard's “Mare Nostrum” sea rescue mission, which he described as "objective aid to tugboat operations"¹⁰, thus identifying it as a major cause (pull factor) of death in the Mediterranean, and refusing to support the mission, state sea rescue operations were largely suspended. Private sea rescuers increasingly took over this responsibility from 2015 and were quickly accused of making common cause with the Libyan smugglers and thus bearing responsibility for the deaths on the Mediterranean (again as pull factor). It was often noted that the conjured causality between sea rescue and drowning at sea is about as conclusive as claiming that there would be fewer traffic accidents if ambulances were no longer driving. Confronted with the repeated arguments of human rights organisations¹¹ or the International Organisation for Migration¹² that it is precisely the lack of safe migration routes and European isolation that provides the breeding ground for the trafficking business and explains the increasingly dangerous routes migrants are forced to take, the responsible bodies of European politics have shown themselves to be rather deaf. On the contrary: the ultra-right conspiracy of the complicity of "left-wing radical sea rescue" and Libyan human traffickers, with the common goal of undermining the foundations of the Occident, underpinned the obsession of polcicymakers with the dismantling of pull factors: That is, Europe's attraction for irregular migration, which would result from lax border security, complicity with traffickers and "guaranteed" rescue on the Mediterranean.
In 2017, the Italian government presented a memorandum of understanding with the Libyan unity government (which controls only part of the capital Tripoli), in which they agreed to set up, train and equip a Libyan coast guard. The task: to combat traffickers, to destroy or prevent their boats from leaving, with the not explicitly formulated but desired result of detaining irregular migrants within Libyan territory. The EU Commission contributed with financial support and its own ideas of "capacity building" for the coast guard to be created. While some trafficking groups reacted to the prospect of destroyed and confiscated boats by replacing their wooden boats with much cheaper and unseaworthy plastic boats or by choosing more dangerous routes, the same deal opened up a lucrative side business for others: In silent cooperation with the so-called coast guard, or as members of the same, people who wanted to leave the hell of the Libyan camps behind at all costs could first be collected for their passage, then picked up again on open sea and forced into the same cynical cycle of slave labour, torture and extortion of money from relatives.¹³ Testimony to this is given in the reports of civil society sea rescue organisations, which show how people panicing at the approaching so-called Libyan coast guard jumped into the sea and drowned. Or of boats being confiscated at sea to be sold back to colleagues on the Libyan coast. Or of private sea rescuers being held at sea and threatened with weapons.¹⁴ The new coast guard also fulfilled two other functions for Europe’s “migration management”: To massively obstruct and intimidate private sea rescuers under threat of violence, and to take over the work that European boats are prohibited from doing because of the "non-refoulement" principle: The forced return ("Push-Backs") of migrants into the life-threatening conditions of Libyan internment camps. What is currently left of the Libyan state is not part of the conventions that prohibit this.
Declining numbers of migrants arriving by sea were recorded by European governments as evidence of their regained control over the "refugee crisis". Combating the causes of irregular migration was declared the new non-plus-ultra of sustainable migration policy. The measures implemented show that this means first and foremost combating traffickers and that tackling the causes of flight on the ground means first and foremost externalizing Europe's borders directly to the source of migration routes.
Externalisation of EU borders in the Horn of Africa: The Khartoum deal
The countries of the Horn of Africa are at the heart of Europe’s migration strategies. Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia in particular are regarded as important countries of origin or transit for migrants who try to reach Europe via Egypt or Libya, with Sudan being the focus of attention due to its central geographical location. In November 2014, 58 heads of government of the European and African continent gathered in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to plan for the East African mainland what has been introduced for West Africa by the Rabat-Prozess¹⁵ and recently enforced in the Mediterranean with the Libyan Unity Government. Official documents speak of "cooperation at bilateral and regional level", strengthening "horizontal coordination among all services" and "capacity building" to combat irregular migration and human trafficking.¹⁶ Financed by the EU and implemented by the International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) and national partner organizations, such as the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), it was agreed, among other things, to establish a joint police academy in Egypt, to network intelligence information ("ROCK"¹⁷), to build two reception camps with detention facilities in Sudan, and to train and equip Sudanese border guards.¹⁸ This also benefited the paramilitary units of the "Janjaweed" responsible for the genocide in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan, from which the above mentioned Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were formed in 2013 and officially placed under the control of the secret service.¹⁹ This former integration of the RSF into the state apparatus was the regime's attempt to wash the militia clean of its bloody past and, since 2015, to give it the reputation of a reliable force for effective border security. The above-mentioned militia leader and head of the now dismantled Military Transitional Council, "Hemedti" - a welcome guest of the Egyptian and Saudi regimes - repeatedly boasted of the responsibility he assumes for the European Union in the fight against irregular migration. This statement was, of course, linked to a threat that put Hemedti in line with the Egyptian President Sisi: If Europe does not continue to support the regime, we will open the borders.²⁰
The reality of the fight against smugglers in the context of the Khartoum process was, among other things, that RSF units, as proof of their commitment as service providers to Europe, picked up Eritrean refugees (also directly in refugee camps) and deported them back to Eritrea, from where they tried to escape the notorious national military service, which the Eritrean regime extends for life if it pleases. According to official statements, the RSF quickly controlled the central migration routes via Khartoum to Egypt and Libya, and outbid itself in reports of the number of people prevented from crossing the border. According to unofficial statements, the same dynamics have developed as we have seen in Libya:
"Migrant smuggling is not a sin," one of them rationalises (RSF-member). "Even if we leave [this activity], others will take care of it. So why not benefit from it and get some money, since the fuel is already provided by the government?²¹
Equipped with petrol and an official mandate, RSF members realized their contacts with Libyan smugglers and traffickers in order to establish a profitable secondary income. Many fugitives report of their journey in RSF vehicles across the Sudanese-Libyan border, where they were sold on to the mercy of Libyan groups, bound to repay their "debts" in Libyan detention camps.²²
"We are aware of the fact that we are dealing with authoritarian regimes, with dictatorships. But the most important thing for us is that the many desperate people get protection. So we take these states on board without legalizing their regimes. We are not giving them any political or democratic legitimacy. We're just confronting them with their responsibilities."²³
With these words EU Commissioner for Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, justified the legitimisation of the dictatorial regimes of Eritrea and Sudan that accompanied the Khartoum process. It does not matter much whether he seriously believed his naive words or deliberately tried to wrap the cynical implications of cooperating with the dictators of the region into euphemistic cotton wool, because the result is the same. Similarly, it makes no difference whether German Development Minister Gerd Müller ducks away by saying that he could not “comprehend" the connection between RSF participation and EU-funded border security²⁴, or whether the EU Commission denies its responsibility by saying that it is not the Commission itself but its partner organisations (GIZ for example) that are enforcing the agreements.
According to a statement by an EU spokesperson to Deutsche Welle on 22 July 2019²⁵, cooperation with the Sudanese government in the fight against irregular migration has been suspended since March 2019. The financing of a secret service centre ("ROCK") in Khartoum has only been temporarily suspended since June. However, this statement seems to raise additional contradictions in the light of the previous denial of any responsibility. After all, does it not allow the reversed conclusion that cooperation with paramilitary militias had been knowingly entered into until then, or at least could not be ruled out?
The result: The military regimes of Sudan and Eritrea enjoyed that part of the Khartoum agreement which matters to them, namely to escape their diplomatic isolation and to strengthen their own security forces with new funds without being interested in the protection of migrants and refugees or even the consequent containment of migration.²⁶ For their part, the European governments can peddle the fruits of their migration policy in the Horn of Africa. For migrants in Sudan, on the other hand, it means more arbitrariness on the part of the security forces and more dangerous migration routes. For the Sudanese democracy movement, the impression prevailed that European governments have long since made their choice between supporting an uncertain process of democratization and the "reliability and stability" of autocratic regimes.
In this sense, would it not slowly be appropriate to call the EU "Better Migration Management" a decisive push factor itself?
The revolution in Sudan continues
After the million march of the democracy movement in Sudan on 30 June, it seemed as if the military was ready to compromise: the TMC and FFC agreed to share power and form a transitional government. Within the opposition, the handshake with the military and militia leaders remains controversial. Some see it as the only possible way out of violence, others as a split and sell-out of the revolution, because it is another step to legitimize the perpetrators of violence. The military agreed to an investigation of the June 3 massacre, but refused to involve international observers and demanded immunity for the members of the TMC. Hardly anyone on the streets of Khartoum believed that the executioners would be prepared to pillory themselves and stop the progressive establishment of a "militia state", and shortly afterwards there were renewed mass protests.
The TMC was officially dissolved on August 18, 2019 and replaced by the formation of a Sovereign Council and Cabinet. The economist Abdalla Hamdok was sworn in as civilian prime minister, while the chairmanship of the Sovereign Council for the first 21 months went to Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (former chairman of the TMC and army leutnant general). Elections are not to be held for 39 months, leaving the military and militia clique some time to reassert their weakened position of power. Not only because of the friendly connections of the al-Bashir regime and its supporters to the Syrian Assad regime and the dictators in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, it is to be feared that the authoritarian forces, with the help of their countless militias, will attempt to crush the opposition with continued violence. Sworn to non-violence from the outset and not deprived of its strenghts even under total blockade of the Internet, the revolution continues.
The possible extradition of al-Bashir to the ICC is a promising step, yet it will remain a symbolic one as long as the influence of the security apparatus on the judiciary is not radically limited. The german foreign minister's symbolic visits to Sudan and the government pledges of supporting democracy should not obscure the fact that the democratic transission remains under constant threat from the old elites and Hemedti with an estimated 30.000 troops. Moreover, the German government’s sudden attention to the fate of Sudan’s democractic future appears in a different light with the recent decision to lift the ban for deporting Sudanese from Germany.
Unwavered, the European governments, and above all the EU Commission, are continuing to consolidate their combination of conditional development aid, fighting irregular migration and military policy. The EU's multiannual financial framework for 2021 – 2027 foresees the halving of development aid funds, while spending on "foreign affairs" is increasing significantly. This would then include the delivery of arms exports to foreign partners (also outside the NATO) to the tune of 10.5 billion euros.²⁷ The "election" of the former German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen as the new president of the EU Commission and the Eritrean regime's current chairmanship of the Khartoum process do not give rise to any hopes that "combating the causes of flight" in the Horn of Africa will in future be more than euphemistic mockery.
What perspectives for action result from all this for an anti-war movement today? Many, it seems to me, and they are all linked: First of all, the solidarity with migrants in this country and all over the world, as called for by Elsa Döldissen in this publication, and the strengthening of those voices that are committed to improving their living conditions and their political rights so that they can fight for peace in their homecountries. Furthermore, we must challenge with a loud voice the European governments twisting of "combating the causes of flight" or the "creation of prospects to return” in such a way as to encourage further militarisation of foreign policy, isolation and cooperation with authoritarian regimes. Ongoing, uncompromising and investigative research is needed to highlight the consequences and practices of externalised migration policy, to provide clarification and prevent those responsible from hiding behind opaque declarations.
Moreover, we cannot tire of throwing all the sand we can find into the gears Europe’s arms and security industry. "On our doorstep" producers and lobbies diligently labour to be the first to provide the appropriate material in the enforcement of Europe’s externalized borders, and thus to turn the plight of the refugees into hard cash.²⁸
References and notes:
1 An abridged version of this article was first published in German in the "Graswurwurzelrevolution", issue 442 (October 2019).
2 Monitor – Grenzen dicht: Europas Pakt mit Despoten, Nikolaus Steiner und Charlotte Wiedl, https://www.wdr.de/tv/applications/daserste/monitor/pdf/2015/0723/manuskript-grenzen-dicht.pdf.
3 Antwort auf Offenen Brief der SPD-Bundestagsfraktion zum Geordnete-Rückkehr-Gesetz, https://www.spdfraktion.de/themen/fragen-antworten-geordnete-rueckkehr-gesetz.
9 The push-pull model is at the heart of economic and rational choice theory about migration and assumes that people are either "pushed" away from areas by push factors (poverty, political oppression, etc.) or "pulled" from other areas by pull factors (prosperity, security, etc.)
11 Pro Asyl: Mare Nostrum “Beihilfe zum Schlepperwesen”, https://www.proasyl.de/fachnewsletter-beitrag/bundesinnenminister-mare-nostrum-beihilfe-zum-schlepperwesen.
12 IOM Applauds Italy’s Life-Saving Mare Nostrum Operation: “Not a Migrant Pull Factor”, https://www.iom.int/news/iom-applauds-italys-life-saving-mare-nostrum-operation-not-migrant-pull-factor.
13 https://www.proasyl.de/pressemitteilung/seenotrettung-durch-libysche-kuestenwache/ und https://www1.wdr.de/daserste/monitor/sendungen/libysche-kuestenwache-100.html.
14 https://sea-watch.org/update-beweise-libysche-kuestenwache/, https://sea-watch.org/sea-watch-erstattet-anzeige-gegen-libysche-kuestenwache-lycg/ und https://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/retter-im-mittelmeer-libysche-kuestenwache-bedroht-fluechtlingshelfer/20203780.html.
15 The Rabat Process (named after the capital of Morocco) refers to the ongoing cooperation of more than sixty European and North, West and Central African states to improve "migration management" between the African and European continents. The Rabat Process was initiated in 2006 by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD).
18 Suliman Baldo: Border Control From Hell - How the EU’s migration partnership legitimizes Sudan’s “militia state”.
19 Baldo, Suliman: Border Control From Hell.
20 Baldo, Suliman: Border Control From Hell und Video der Rede von “Hemeti”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCv7LYhjNQA&feature=youtu.be.
21 Tubiana, Warin & Saeneen: Multilateral Damage - The impact of EU migration policies on central Saharan routes.
22 Tubiana, Warin & Saeneen: Multilateral Damage.
23 Monitor – Grenzen dicht, https://www.wdr.de/tv/applications/daserste/monitor/pdf/2015/0723/manuskript-grenzen-dicht.pdf. (Eigene Übersetzung)
24 Antwort auf Befragung der Bundesregierung zum Sudan im Bundestag, https://web.facebook.com/buchholz.christine/videos/1540062482797500/?v=1540062482797500.
26 Stern, Maximilian:The Khartoum Process: Critical Assessment and Policy Recommendations.
27 Klasen, Richard: Militarisierung und Migrationsabwehr in Europa, https://www.forumzfd.de/de/militarisierung-und-migrationsabwehr-europa.
28 Stop Wapenhandel: Border Wars – The Arms Dealers profiting from Europe’s Refugee Tragedy.
Image rights (chronological):
Wasil Schauseil. Auf dem Protest vor dem Auswärtigen Amt, Berlin 2019. Own Work. 2019.
Wasil Schauseil. Janjaweed/RSF Kommandeur "Hemeti". Own Work. 2019.
UNHCR. East, Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region - Refugees and asylum-seekers - 31 August 2019. CC BY 3.0 IGO. Wasil Schauseil. Märtyrer der Revolution. Own Work. 2019.