Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 9 December 2017

Judas Face of Europe: what can you do with thirty coins of silver?

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By Amgad Fareid Eltayeb

According to the biblical narrative, thirty coins of silver was the price for which Judas betrayed Jesus and handed him over to the temple priests. According to the same narrative, these exact thirty coins of silver were used later to buy a graveyard, after the remorse made Judas return them back to the priests before committing suicide by hanging. The priests decided it is a price of blood thus cannot be used for holy or noble purposes, so they used it to buy a graveyard for strangers; Haceldama; the field of blood, as it is called until today. Europe is now using another thirty silver coins to buy a new Haceldama for the black migrants and refugees coming from Africa.

Thirty silvers were also the price to buy a human slave two thousand years ago. It is almost equivalent to 600 USD of today’s money, which is the average price to buy a slave in the modern human auctions. Recently, CNN broadcasted an investigative report that revealed the full-scale return of slave trade to the world. The investigation of the CNN anchor Nima Elbagir contained video footage of human auction that took place in Libya, in which bidders’ voices are heard putting prices for buying slaves for prices that are not more than 400 USD for some. African refugees are the commodity in these auctions. Young people from Ethiopia, Eretria, Sudan, Somalia, Chad, Nigeria and Niger to the end of the long list of the failed projects of post-colonial state in Africa, who are trying to escape some of the worst humanitarian and despotic situations, are the victims of this crime. They are being sold, over and over, repeatedly until they are damaged “goods” for their “sin” in attempting to escape tyranny and sufferings. They are being punished for trying to enjoy their basic human right of refuging and seeking asylum. The Classical Liberal, Pro-Market, Increasingly Conservative British Newspaper “The Independent” did not shy of referring to them as (sleepwalking) while the rest of the world is waking up to the crisis in Libya. According to The Independent, it seems to be a behavioural disorder now to seek a human right that is provided for by the rules of international law and global agreements. What Bethan McKernan (the writer of the Independent article) is not getting on his piece celebrating the West’s outrageous reaction to the CNN report is that it is not a choice for these migrants -as he described them- to travel out of their countries. They are not tourists or adventurer travellers who are sleepwalking their way to Libya slave markets ignoring the dangers. They already know that they are risking their lives escaping from situations that would definitely cost them their lives. They are risking presumable dangers to avoid a definite misery. Because simply they are not migrants, as he perceives or trying to make the reader perceive. They are refugees and Asylum seekers, which is a right for all human who are in danger and a darker colour of skin does not take this right away. This change of discourse in referring to the African refugees is very serious. It gradually creates a new reality in which refugees rights are not their rights anymore because they are not refugees, they are migrants according to the new tongue.

Moreover, the risks that refugees are facing are created, maintained and exaggerated by others who do not represent them, not just happened because of sleepwalking. Mr. McKernan celebrated West is among those others. The West cannot walk clean out of the blood shedding over this crime of modern Slavery, particularly Europe. If we choose to forget about the heritage of centuries of colonization that intercepted the natural evolution and development in the Global South and the gruesome plundering of the wealth of African nations for the benefit of capital accumulation in Europe (Which are factors to different extents in the creation of the current situations in Africa), how can we set a blind eye to the consequences of the current European anti-migration policies that unleash militias to hunt down refugees in the African borders to stop them of reaching Europe. Khartoum Process and other dozens of bilateral agreements between EU member states and African countries are in place to achieve one objective of stopping refugees far away from the borders of Europe.

Taking Sudan as an example, the EU continues to support Sudan efforts to fight irregular migration and millions of Euros are being paid from the European taxpayer’s money for that purpose. Efforts that EU knows very well that they are being implemented by the infamous, restructured Janjaweed militia, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Although the EU continues to flatly deny all evidence of supporting the RSF while acknowledging its support to Sudan efforts in controlling migration, the Sudanese regime announced several times that it assigned border control duties and duties related migration control to its RSF militia. The numbers of those refugees arrested are even announced in a festive manner by the RSF leadership in order to prove its effectiveness and worthiness to the world in an attempt to convince the world of setting a blind eye to its crimes. This happens every now and then with growing numbers of detainees . RSF –which is a restructured Janjaweed militia that is described by the UN as a tool for proxy war of the Sudanese Government and a factor for increasing violence, collective punishment and forced displacement in Darfur and it was also used by the government for killing of civilian protesters along many other violations- is being accused with abuses against migrants but nobody seems to be concerned. The detained migrants are brought to Khartoum in several occasions to face prison time before they are forcibly deported to their home countries . Another crime and violation of the international law but still, nobody is concerned.

Sudan is not the only case where the EU and its member states are shamelessly using militias to push refugees back. Italy started recently to provide support to Libyan militias to assist in tracking migrants and stopping them from passing to Europe; stemming migration as the term is coined. A funding deal that includes the provision of equipment, boats and salaries was made with the two most powerful militias in the western Libyan city of Sabrata, which is the biggest launching point for the African migrants in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean. The UN designates one of these two agreed-with militias as a main facilitator of human trafficking . This deal has been reported to drastically decrease the numbers of those who arrive to the European borders, but at what cost? If we let alone the catastrophic impact of funding an illegal armed group and allowing it to enrich and empower its self, how can the EU and its member states deny the impact of that in the re-emergence of modern slavery. However, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini saluted these Italian measures in her speech to the European Parliament .

The EU member states bilateral agreements with the African countries (particularly Sudan) are problematically controversial at best if not illegal and an open call for Human Rights violations by tyrannical regimes . A recent legal analysis of the bilateral agreement between Italy and Sudan found it to be in breach of internationally recognised human rights. Other countries like Germany signed agreements with Sudan that includes training security forces to fight migration on behalf of Europe (A task that is officially assigned by the Sudanese government to RSF), United Kingdom continues in its bi-annual strategic dialogue meetings with the Sudanese government that repeatedly emphasize on strengthening cooperation to fight migration. More recently UK and Sudanese army signed a Memorandum of Understanding in British Army is to provide administrative and logistic services necessary to facilitate the East African Standby Force (EASF) Military Field Training. Such deals that includes security cooperation might be a breach to the UN arms embargo on Sudan, which also prohibits -according to the UK government - technical assistance, brokering services and other military-related services. As well, it also prohibits financing or financial assistance related to military activities for use in Sudan. The EASF Military Field Training is an obvious military activity that will be taking place in Sudan.

The legal analysis of the Italian bilateral agreement with Sudan also pointed to the attempts made by the European governments to elude the official channels of negotiation of international agreements, the rules on ratification contained in Constitutions and, eventually, the respect of human rights by designating these agreements as Memorandum of Understanding. Then it is less binding, causes less media nagging and needs less formal procedures. But what is in the name, the crime is still smelly.

Although the EU continues to claim that the Khartoum Process interventions are of civilian and developmental nature, some of the proposed interventions are of a very security nature. For example, The Regional Operational Centre in support of the Khartoum Process and AU-Horn of Africa Initiative project (ROCK) is a 5 Million Euros project whose main beneficiaries are the law enforcement agencies of Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, Tunisia, Egypt and Djibouti. With the possible engagement of Uganda and Libya as well. The project aims at capacity building, intelligence gathering and sharing between these agencies. Well, we have seen examples of the so-called law enforcement forces when it comes to the current European approach of African border control on the RSF of Sudan and Sabrata militias in Libya. The ROCK will have a commanding centre in a police training centre in Khartoum and the implementation authority will be a consortium of the EU Member States and the INTERPOL with “their highly technical competence and specialisation” in addition to the agencies from the countries of Khartoum Process. These controversial forces -at best- will then directly benefit from such capacity building. Given the records of all these countries in using Law Enforcement Agencies in human rights violations, the results of such capacity building will be nothing but more feeding of the beast. For the capacity building in aspects other than security, it is enough to mention that a recent members of the EU Parliament concluded in a report of a visit to Sudan in December 2016 that the main achievement of the National Anti-trafficking Committee after two years of its creation; is the participation of its members in international gatherings in London, Addis Ababa, Italy, Bahrein and Qatar. While it does not have a physical workplace nor a budget nor trained personnel and no safe houses for victims. I cannot find a more obvious example of how Khartoum Process is dispelling EU taxpayers’ money other than that.

Currently, in Sudan, the capacity of the physical infrastructure of the borders’ security is increasing rapidly. In addition to the celebratory media coverage of the RSF announcements of refugees’ detentions, investing in new detention centres for refugees is underway for instance in the Northern State. The aim of these increasing securitization plans is to expand the operational area of the RSF in its hunt for refugees. The Nubian Desert in northern Sudan is the main route for migrants heading to Libya and Egypt. The Northern City of Dongola is now on the list as a potential site for establishing one of the largest detention centres across the country. It goes without saying that Dongola was proposed with no consideration for the local context nor the community’s view on such new facility. This is important to mention as the local citizens in the Northern Nubian Sudan are very sensitive in regards to their lands and the demography of the region. Skirmishes between the citizens and Sudan’s ruling regime are already taking place at an alarming level around these issues. Building a refugee detention centre in this area alongside the accompanied RSF’s presence and activity and the forced transient (imprisoning) settlement of the refugees in local communities, will only lead to increasing tensions and more serious frictions. Migration strategists and policymakers have failed again to study the situation on the ground or consider understanding the local context and people’s concerns while putting their proposals or maybe they just chose to ignore that. The exclusion of the local communities’ perspective and the overlooking of their social, historical and demographic context reflects are part of the secrecy and the lack of transparency that surrounds the Khartoum Process and the subsequent European migration management and interventions. This secrecy and lack of community engagement and consultation lead to nothing but more drowning in the securitization approach of dealing with repressive governments to attempt solving a problem they caused in the first place. As well, it creates further misunderstanding and confusion within the public opinion and feeds into notions of fear and exclusion of the other. While the EU, maybe aiming to reduce the fuss and criticism of its interventions through this obscurity, but in situations that lack enough space for the Freedom of Expression-like that of Sudan as per the EU own statements - opening the space and minds and hearts to hear and listen to the criticism and appraisals from local forces and civil society is very crucial. Any attempts from the EU or its Member States to force donor agendas to silence critiques or set some lines of censorship on the civil society organizations that raise its voice with criticism to the process will be harmful and more catastrophic than the current mismanagement crisis and will increase the polarization around the whole migration issue. EU should listen to both its domestic and African voices that assess its current approach in tackling the issue of asylum and refugees and try to come with a better community-based and participatory approach in addressing the root causes of what is being described now as a crisis.

With all of the above, the direction which the EU and its members states are currently taking in tackling the migration issue is nothing but securitization of new pushed-south "externalization of borders” by militias and regimes that have no great respect to the rule of law or the values of human rights. They are not bound by the European standards and do not even care to violate the international law and human rights. In the bottom line reality, it is the EU that violates these standards but by proxy.

The tightness of border control policies and the blockade of asylum routes is the main cause for the return of slave trade to the modern age by this scale. In reality, most of the refugees and/or migrants as the EU now want their name to be, are not being kidnapped against their will. They resort to smugglers as their only choice to find their way out of conditions of “well-founded fear of persecution” or in which their physical, legal and material safety and their dignity and basic rights cannot be made available. The international law gives them the right to seek refuge, but in the absence of safe pathways of obtaining this right, resorting to smugglers becomes the only choice. While refugees are right’s agents, smugglers are not rights’ defenders, they are doing this as a for-profit business and they can easily turn sides as has been proven by the Italian measures. Putting a price tag on stopping refugees whether by aid packages to failed regimes that are part of the root-causes of the asylum phenomena or by direct payments to militias is the first step of the commodification of refugees and taking away their humane identity. This does turn them to goods in the eyes of illegal gangs. Then human trafficking finds its conducive environment to grow with the goods made available and free of charge or with a little price. The same smugglers are turned to traffickers by the currently implemented security measures for double profit. The other ugly fact about the outrageous western reaction to the slave trade crisis is about the attempts to use it to force asylum seekers/refugees back to the situations they were trying to flee in the first place without working on solving the roots of their problems or guaranteeing their safety. This would be the most unethical, unprincipled and wicked European act since Europe decided that it “discovered” Africa.

Make no mistake here, those who make this dangerous choice are not the ones who are pulled to migration to Europe for the lifestyle, they are the ones who are in the most of need for a safe haven that can protect their dignity and humanity and rights. Those polled are the ones who can get asylum in Europe very easily after getting there by plane and entering with formal visas facilitated with their socio-economic privileges in their home countries. While those in most need are left to try the dangerous option. This whole Pull and Push factors of migration hypothesis are not suitable for explaining the current situation, simply because it is not migration, it is an asylum. The real crisis that is being ignored is the catastrophic increase in the numbers of those who need refuge in our world of today. This surge is not only because of the failure of the states and tyranny in the global south, but also because of the increased severity of the global inequality, which has its own historical roots, and context that needs addressing. In the absence of a comprehensive vision of the migration issue, that takes all the roots and causes of refuging into account, the aid and development packages that EU is presenting to address migration, will not be other than thirty silver coins to buy a Haceldama for the stranger refugees.

Dr Amgad Fareid Eltayeb can be reached at amjedfarid@gmail.com



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