The Issue of Refugees in Europe – Solidarity or Sell Out?

Thursday 27 September 2018

Conference Room, Europe House, 32 Smith Square London SW1P 3EU


Maurice Wren, Chief Executive, The Refugee Council

Maddy Crowther, Waging Peace

Elham Fardad, Migrant Leaders

Maddy Crowther: Co-Executive Director & Head of Communications, Research & Asylum of Waging Peace which campaigns against human rights abuses in Sudan, where protracted conflicts and poor governance continue to blight the lives of citizens. It maintains focus on Sudan even though international attention has moved on to other crises. But just because the outcry at the height of the genocide in Darfur has stopped, it does not mean the suffering is over. Maddy holds a degree in International Politics, with a focus on African politics, from Cambridge University. She has a background in communications and public affairs with consultancy Linstock Communications. She has also worked with several NGOs, both in the UK and abroad, producing targeted research and other content, including campaign videos. You can find her on Twitter at @CrowtherMaddy.

She said "Let me set the scene. The date is the 23rd of March 2016. Ambassadors of the EU Member States sit at a meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee. They are told by the European Commission that “under no circumstances” should the public learn of what was said that day. A staff member of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini warned that Europe's reputation could be at stake.

So, what were they talking about? They were talking about the Khartoum Process, a framework for discussions between the EU and Horn of Africa, and specifically some of its most brutal dictators, Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir, and Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki, aimed at stopping refugee flows to Europe.  

Over the few minutes I have, I hope to demonstrate that the Khartoum Process, and its real-world and on-the-ground impact perfectly captures why the EU is guilty of selling out its principles in the response to refugee numbers arriving on our shores.

The policy response has been one of reactiveness to domestic pressure, and a resulting push for containment in the continents bordering Europe, and principally Africa. The EU decided at its summit in June 2018 to explore what it termed ‘regional disembarkation centres’ as a key objective. This is the clearest example yet of the EU’s policy of border externalisation, which reimagines northern Africa as Europe’s southern periphery.

Actually, at least in the Horn of Africa, border externalisation has its roots far earlier, and is a policy the EU has been quietly pursuing in the region since the early 2010s.

Given Waging Peace’s daily work with the UK’s Sudanese refugee population, numbering some 50,000, I can speak most meaningfully to the on the ground impacts of such policies in Sudan and on vulnerable refugees here.

It is worth a reminder here that Sudan remains in the top five countries of origin for asylum-seekers globally, and here in the UK numbers rise quarter on quarter, and year on year, even beyond the 2014 peak we witnessed across all nationalities.

A brief bit of history on Sudan: this is the country where a brutal and decades-long civil war led to the eventual secession of South Sudan, and a scorched earth campaign against civilians in Darfur led to the indictment of its President for nearing the past 30 years, Omar Al-Bashir, for crimes including genocide, exempting him from usual EU support under the terms of the Cotonou Agreement. This is an exemption that has proved meaningless in the pursuit of showing to domestic European audiences that ‘something is being done’ about the refugee crisis.

And this is the origin of the Khartoum Process, an initiative shared between the European Commission’s Directorate for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME) and Italy, who as we know shoulders the burden in terms of arrivals, and then again of asylum-seeker numbers given returns under Dublin.

The problem is that this aim, to ‘do something about refugee flows’, is now the cause to which existing aid and development programmes have been marshalled. Livelihoods and jobs projects, for instance, are now framed as a response to security concerns and border control.

But by far the most pernicious programmes are related to naked attempts to police Sudan’s borders, and particularly those with Eritrea in the East, and Libya in the northwest.

So those are the aims, right? Police a tract of dessert en route to Libya the size and scale of France’s border with Germany.

And how do they propose to do it? A German-led project called the Better Migration Management aims to build the capacity of the Sudanese security sector to complete this work.

The crucial problem here being that the Sudanese security sector is the primary driver of migration.

Here let me introduce you to Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces, their commander a gentleman named Mohamed Hamdan Daglo or ‘Hametti’. The Rapid Support Forces are themselves a reconstituted version of the notorious Janjaweed, the so-called ‘devils on horseback’ who ethnically cleansed the Darfur region at the height of the genocide, burning villages, mass raping men, women and children, even overseeing the recent alleged use chemical weapons to maim those in the region.

The title the Rapid Support Forces was adopted when the Sudanese government reincorporated the Janjaweed in late 2013, also later integrating them into the regular armed forces, in a naked attempt to avoid UN Security Council action aimed at ensuring accountability for the Janjaweed attacks.

And who now is policing Sudan’s borders? The Rapid Support Forces. The EU is at pains to describe how the Rapid Support Forces do not do so at their express instruction, or with their direct funding, but by giving the message that actions taken to halt flows are welcomed, I believe they the Rapid Support Forces monitor the border with the EU’s tacit acceptance, and I think even begrudging respect.

Furthermore, there is credible evidence that the Rapid Support Forces have been involved in human trafficking and smuggling, and are themselves actually running the routes into Libya, simply using EU instructions to criminalise smugglers to further monopolise the networks that run throughout the region. In fact, they make no secret of it, and it is my understanding that journalist meetings with Rapid Support Forces commander Hametti are now closely managed by the central Sudanese government, after he made some worrying statements to the effect that the EU needed to pay him money, or he would ‘turn on the tap’.

This encapsulates to me the fundamental immoral hypocrisy of the Khartoum Process, and the EU’s wider policy of border externalisation. People in Sudan, and in the Horn of Africa more widely, are rightly fleeing governments and state bodies that are predatory. The EU seems content to keep individuals in states and situations from which they have a right to flee.

Moreover, not only is this a hypocrisy, it is ineffective. As state control tightens, including via EU programmes which train Sudanese police, what we hear from otherwise stable migrant communities living in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum is that the country can no longer harbour them, and they must move onwards. As state infrastructure is emboldened, and used for repressive purposes, the reasons forcing individuals to flee are strengthened, rather than minimised.

And the worst part is, people are still fleeing. What we’ve long known with migration is that the decision to run is taken with a careful and nuanced understanding of risk. As Europe has sought to increase the risk, people have simply factored in greater risk to their cost-benefit calculations. What else could explain the continued movement into Libya, despite the horrific conditions of the detention facilities.

Most of my clients go through Libya, but while they are able to describe to me their treatment and torture in Sudan, very few can even describe the horrors there. Media reports are clearer: many are tortured, phones held to their faces, to encourage their families to send ransom monies. As these individuals are released, they will seek safety, and that safety will be in Europe.

As I close, I want to apologise if this talk has been overly technical and specific, but I think with European actions taken in response to the ‘refugee migrant crisis’, the devil is in the detail. And the devils here are Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir, individual paramilitary leaders like Hametti, Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki, and Libya’s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. And these are the devils the EU is content to shake hands with. I can see no clearer argument that Europe is selling its moral credibility for short-term gains relating to migration."

Elham Fardad: Senior Manager at Ernst & Young Finance Advisory practice. She has worked for 15 years in industry in senior Finance roles followed by 8 years at EY where she currently advises clients on their most challenging operational problems. In 2017 Elham launched Migrant Leaders to identify talented young migrants and help them through a world class programme of bespoke modules, workshops, mentoring and quality work experiences at leading firms. She has designed this programme bringing the best of her experience and the network she has gained throughout her professional career and charitable work. Elham also devotes much of her time and care towards her two children who are aged 12 and 9 and she manages a ‘dual career household’ as her husband works in IT Advisory at Accenture. Elham’s inspiration comes from her desire to help leave the world a better place for her children and for others to be able to succeed no matter where they come from.

She shared the following thoughts:

"Why Elham Fardad launched Migrant Leaders?

Only 1.3% of FSTE 100 Board Directors are migrants and all of those have been privately educated. Elham’s mission in life is to help move that number.

We must generate the pipeline of diverse talent before we lose a generation who have gone through so much and yet because of that will be more driven than anyone, able to take the risks essential for innovation and exponential growth and they come with some of the technical skills that Britain needs more of such as strong Maths and Science. Wouldn’t it be great if we as the migrant population give that gift of economic growth and harmony in communities to Britain, the country that has welcomed us?

How is Migrant Leaders doing this?

Migrant Leaders is a leading practice development programme for 16-25 year old first and second generation migrants. The programme provides these young people with 3 components; mentoring from Director grade executives working on FTSE100 and leading firms, capability and leadership workshops and conferences and a digital programme to share our resources with all underrepresented young people across the country. We have also formed pivotal partnerships with FTSE100 to provide our young people with quality work experiences and access to leading corporates.

Final thought:

You may ask yourself why think of a corporate life, migrants have bigger problems than this. But happiness is about fulfilling one’s potential and we need to think about the long term future of the talented, resilient young migrants who come into this country. When you look at the issue of international labour migration, research considers the economic/political/ethical issues around migration. The financial benefits and costs can be argued both ways especially when you contrast short term local costs of migration vs the long term benefits to the economy and diversity. However, one area that everyone seems to agree on is the adverse psychological impact on migrants. Part of that is the feeling that you have been displaced, that you have lost your identity and been cheated out of your destiny. “I have founded Migrant Leaders to help migrants achieve their aspirations and destiny for their good and for the good of Britain, the country that I love and has given me so many opportunities.”

Maurice Wren

Chief Executive of Refugee Council, leading refugee charity in UK since March 2013. Director of Asylum Aid since 2002, having previously held senior management roles at Shelter and the Housing Associations Charitable Trust. Maurice has led Asylum Aid’s advocacy work on improving access to legal representation for asylum seekers. He has also been a trustee of the Refugee Council, and was a co-founder the Independent Asylum Commission from 2006-2008, and Detention Forum, a coalition of charities working on immigration detention since 2009. Keith Best said "I have had privilege of working alongside and observing Maurice for last 16 years during the time that I ran the Immigration Advisory Service and then Freedom from Torture. His knowledge and insights are second to none and I remember with some satisfaction the way he cross examined hapless Home Office civil servants when we had regular forum meetings with them and it became obvious that he knew more than they did!"

Maurice gave a thoughtful and optimistic assessment of the UK's approach to asylum seekers. He felt that progress has been made in ensuring a more humanitarian system and that the Home Office is now more open to thoughts and contributions from the not for profit sector than ever previously. He ended his remarks by giving some practical thoughts for the future.