Sudan is still not a safe place for Sudanese asylum-seekers

Sudanese refugees in Doro refugee camp

Sudanese refugees in Doro refugee camp 370 R. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Israeli government has been frustrated by: (a) its failure to deport African asylum- seekers in Israel to Rwanda and Uganda and (b) the High Court’s resistance to approving forced deportation.

In continuing its battle to expel Israel’s African asylum-seekers, the government is now considering designating Sudan as a suitable destination, claiming Sudan is now safe.

Israel can argue that it is simply following the lead of the United States, Europe, and the United Nations in regarding Sudan as a safe place for returning refugees.

Several factors explain the West’s dramatic change in its stance towards Omar al-Bashir’s regime in Sudan from harsh condemnation to token criticism over the past three years:

1. The massive flow to Europe of millions of refugees seeking protection which led to the rise of anti-immigrant movements and right-wing parties in Europe advocating sending asylum-seekers back to their own countries;

2. The rise of Islamist terrorist movements launching terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe and targeting western interests in Africa and the Middle East.

3. A shift in American and European foreign policy objectives which allocated more resources and energy for fighting Islamist terrorism and halting the flow of African migrants seeking to make it to Europe while downgrading the relative importance of promoting human rights and democratic reforms in Africa.

4. Sudan’s breaking its ties with Iran and joining the Sunni anti-Iran alliance in 2015 which led to greater collaboration between Sudan and the United States in sharing information about ISIS and other terrorist movements.

5. Sudan’s success in reducing the number of Sudanese and foreign migrants passing through Sudan on their way to Europe The Bashir regime has taken advantage of the shift in the West’s priorities to shed its international image as a radical anti-western Islamist state pursuing genocide in Darfur.

The Bashir regime been quite successful in recasting Sudan as a reliable partner of the West in fighting Islamist terrorists and collaborating to halt African migration to Europe.

Sudan has reaped considerable political and economic benefits, thanks to its growing partnership with the European Union, the United States, and the Arab Gulf states, Bashir and other Sudanese leaders indicted by the International Court of Justice in 2007 for war crimes are no longer in danger of being arrested and tried.

Sudan now enjoys the political and economic support of the Arab Gulf states and has garnered billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates needed to shore up its regime. Sudan receives hundreds of millions of dollars in bilateral and multilateral aid from Europe. The Obama administration started lifting economic sanctions against Sudan in 2016. The Trump administration has ended economic sanctions and is currently engaged in negotiations to normalize relations.

The European Union and the United States justify their increasingly cordial relations with Sudan by asserting that Sudan has made considerable progress in addressing terrorism and abuse of civil rights.

The West no longer denounces the Bashir regime’s abysmal human rights record and failure to end ethnic cleansing campaigns in Darfur.

Instead, it speaks of Sudan’s progress in making peace, human rights, and efforts to engage in dialogue with critics and opponents of the regime.

The UN has gone even further in closing its eyes to atrocities and attacks on civilian populations still taking place in Darfur and other regions. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees signed an agreement with Chad and Sudan to repatriate 320,000 Sudanese refugees in Chad in May 2017. The UNHCR made this agreement despite the fact peace has not been restored in Darfur.

The tripartite agreement gives credence to false claims by the Bashir regime that it was now safe for Sudanese refugees to return home.

Nearly all the Sudanese refugees in Chad knew better and refused to be repatriated. Their fears have been verified by almost daily reports of attacks on the small numbers of Sudanese refugees from Chad and other African countries who believed the UNHCR assurances that it was safe to return to their villages.

Sudan has also been pressing the UN to dismantle the Internally Displaced Persons camps in the country and accelerate the departure of the United Nations Africa Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) peace keepers.

Over the past year, budget cuts have resulted in a 40% decline in the number of troops assigned to protect the camps.

The 2.2 million Darfuris still in IDP camps dread the day when the camps will be closed and UNAMID forces withdrawn. The departure of the UNAMID mission would leave the Bashir regime free to continue its ethnic cleansing campaigns with impunity.

THE SITUATION on the ground is very different from the rosy picture portrayed by the Sudanese government. Peace has not been restored. The heaviest fighting is taking place in the Jebel Mara region in Darfur. And in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile states, other rebel groups refuse to lay down their arms.

Over the past few months, the Bashir regime has closed newspapers and brutally broken peaceful demonstrations in Khartoum, Darfur and other regions calling for political reform and protesting government corruption and mismanagement of the economy. Government’s economic policies. Rather than moving towards peace and transition to democracy, the Bashir regime is more likely to intensify its efforts to destroy rebel forces, crush popular protest demonstrations, and silence the media.

Over the past four years, an unknown number of Sudanese refugees who left Israel were arrested, beaten, tortured, and murdered after their voluntary deportation to their homeland. A week ago, a Sudanese American citizen visiting the country died after having been arrested.

Unfortunately, there are no safe places in Sudan for asylum-seekers returning to Sudan from Israel. Knowing this, the government coalition should stop looking for safe places in Sudan, abandon efforts to pass legislation allowing the Knesset to override decisions by the High Court to stop forced deportation, and return to negotiating a win-win solution with the UNHCR like the one accepted and then rejected by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April.

The author is a Jerusalem-based international consultant specializing in African democracy, development and migration issues.

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