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Is the EU putting African migrants at risk?

Evan Woodnorth
November 10, 2017

A new report says EU-Horn of Africa migration policy puts African migrants at risk. DW spoke with the report's co-author Lutz Oette about why the Khartoum Process is inherently flawed.

Refugees and migrants are seen in a rescue craft after being assisted from a small rubber boat by crewmembers from the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) Phoenix vessel on June 10, 2017 off Lampedusa, Italy
Image: Getty Images/C. McGrath

The European Union-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative, also known as The Khartoum Process, was established in 2014 between 37 EU and African states in order to stem mass migration from the Horn of Africa. It also intended to combat issues of human trafficking and smuggling.

Dr. Lutz Oette is the Director of the Center for Human Rights Law at SOAS, University of London. He says the policy puts more migrants in danger and needs a complete overhaul.

DW: Why is this model, why is the Khartoum Process flawed?

Lutz Oette: The main problem is that it fights the symptoms rather than the causes. It does so by partnering with governments in a region that has serious governance and human rights problems. So it's very unlikely that you can actually, with the current model used, effectively combat trafficking and smuggling, as long as the actual root causes are still in place.

In arecent article you mentioned how these issues of mixed migration, trafficking, smuggling, are portrayed as regional African issues rather than international ones. To what extent is the Khartoum Process yet another example of this border-focused Fortress Europe mentality?

I think it is very much EU-driven in that sense. It’s part of a broader process in a number of regions to outsource and externalize border controls and then to use countries in the region to actually perform that task. There are a number of issues where the EU is a player and arguably contributes to the very phenomenon it now seeks to combat. So I don’t think that the EU is an external bystander, it’s very much part and parcel of it.

So you’re saying these policies are essentially exacerbating the problem instead of fixing it?

Yes. We would argue that in order to fix the problems you need to take a very different approach, where you actually identify the problem by working with a number of local actors. And in the EU policy it says you should work with the people, as they call it. And then to say, well what are the key problems? These are governance problems, human rights problems, lack of civil society, deep inequality —  and it’s very clear what these problems are. But working with governments that have proven to be quite corrupt and are also implicated in human rights violations themselves, and even in that very act of trafficking, is obviously highly problematic and how that is going to work is anyone's guess. There is already evidence that the rights of refugees and migrants have been violated because they've been sent back to their countries.

Dr. Lutz Oette
Dr. Lutz Oette, Director of the Center for Human Rights Law at SOAS, University of London.Image: privat

Can you elaborate on the role that Germany plays in the Khartoum Process?

Germany is one of the main countries in a number of these processes. Initially it was Italy, under the EU presidency, that was the driving force behind the Khartoum Process. And now Germany is playing quite a major role through the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) because that is the agency responsible for actually implementing the Better Migration Management Project, which is sort of the first key project under the Khartoum Process. Germany has contributed for that project alone 6 million euros ($6.98 million) as complementary funding and 40 million euros ($46.5 million) were drawn from the European Trust Fund. And obviously Germany also has its own bilateral relationship with countries such as Sudan and other countries. I think again one cannot entirely separate these partnerships in migration control from the broader engagement in the region. And I think there is that concern that countries that see themselves as partners in migration would then also not be as outspoken on other issues of concern such as ongoing human rights violations.

What do you suggest policy makers should do in order to fix the Khartoum Process and what effect do you hope the report will have?

Our hope is that it will lead you to rethink because the whole process needs to be restructured. Trafficking and smuggling are serious problems but we just don't think that the Khartoum Process will actually help in combating them effectively. So I think one needs to go back to the drawing board in terms of policy making, get other actors involved and escape that instrumental state-centric logic that has been pursued so far. Our hope is that the voices from the Eritrean refugees that speak in the report will be listened to — because there is a mismatch now between the realities on the ground and the policy making and the project implementation.

Dr. Lutz Oette is the Director of the Centre for Human Rights Law at SOAS, University of London.