20 November 2020
Since early November, more than 27,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled the Tigray region and crossed into Sudan. According to UNHCR, on just one day--15 November--some 5,000 refugees arrived in Sudan’s border provinces of Kassala and al-Qadarif. Information campaigns are reported to have been initiated to ensure that refugees crossing into Sudan understand how to avoid the spread of COVID-19, and hand soap and 50,000 face masks have been sent to the border areas from Khartoum.
With growing numbers of arrivals--and predictions by international observers that thousands more refugees will seek refuge in Sudan--available shelter is under increasing pressure, and authorities face a rush to identify and provide more sites. A transit centre in Hamdayet, which has capacity for 300 people, is reported to be hosting 12,000. Several thousand have been placed in the Um Rakouba (or Um Raquba) refugee camp, but authorities are struggling to provide sufficient services, including food distribution.
As of the end of 2019, Sudan was reported to be hosting 1,055,489 refugees--the majority of whom are from South Sudan. The government has maintained a reservation on Article 26 of the UN Refugee Convention (Article 26 provides for refugees’ freedom of movement and the ability to choose place of residence) and requires refugees to stay in designated camps. However, more than 75 percent of South Sudanese refugees are believed to be living within the host community. Persons found exiting camps are subject to fines and return to the camp, while those apprehended in urban areas face arrest and detention if they lack valid identification cards. According to the U.S. State Department, on average between 150 and 200 refugees and asylum seekers are detained in Khartoum each month.
Reports in the past have indicated that the country uses prisons for the detention of non-nationals for migration-related reasons, as well as ad hoc immigration detention facilities. The U.S. State Department, UNHCR, and media outlets have also referred to various immigration detention facilities, including an “Aliens Detention Centre” in Khartoum, although the GDP has not identified their exact locations or been able to verify if any remain in use. Prison conditions, meanwhile, remain deeply concerning. The U.S. State Department describes them as “harsh and life threatening, overcrowding was a major problem.” The UN has reportedly provided some supplies to several prisons during the pandemic, as well as awareness campaigns on preventive measures.
Since the launch of the Khartoum Process in late 2014, the EU has focused on curbing northward migration from Sudan--via both migration control efforts, and schemes to “address the root causes of displacement.” Through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the country--which until 2019 was under the leadership of a President facing an International Criminal Court warrant for crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes--has received hundreds of thousands to achieve these goals. In 2016, German media obtained documents that showed that EU efforts to curb migration focussed on border protection, and that plans were in place to establish two camps with detention rooms. Although the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development reported that these plans were binding, the SOAS Centre for Human Rights Law later reported that the plans had been dropped.
Concerns that EU funds were being channeled into a country with little respect for human rights have grown since the launch of the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. In 2016, these concerns became acute in the wake of reports that the RSF (Rapid Support Force, formerly the notorious Janjaweed), which had been hired to curb migration using EU funds, had been involved in the arrest and deportation of hundreds of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers. Later, in March 2019, funding for the EU’s “Better Migration Management” project in Sudan--which supported the training of border control forces and policies--was suspended amid fears that the funds were being used to strengthen security forces (including the RSF) responsible for violently suppressing peaceful protests. As of July 2020 however, the programme appeared to have resumed.
- S. Magdy, “UN: Over 23,300 Fleeing Ethiopia Fighting Have Reached Sudan,” 16 November 2020, https://apnews.com/article/sudan-abiy-ahmed-africa-ethiopia-united-nations-0a37839e6b61e523fcaf9345a1a48583
- UNHCR, “Aid Urgently Needed for Ethiopians Streaming Into Sudan,” 17 November 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/latest/2020/11/5fb3cb3e4/aid-urgently-needed-ethiopians-streaming-sudan.html
- U.S. State Department, “2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Sudan,” 2020, https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/sudan/
- Prison Insider, “Africa: Coronavirus, Prison Fever,” https://www.prison-insider.com/en/articles/afrique-coronavirus-la-fievre-des-prisons
- T. Wills, “EU Suspends Migration Control Projects in Sudan Amid Repression Fears,” DW, 22 July 2019, https://bit.ly/3pJJtRJ
- K. Siegfried, “Sudan and Eritrea Crackdown on Migrants Amid Reports of EU Incentives,” New Humanitarian, 25 May 2016, https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/fr/node/256247
- SOAS Centre for Human Rights Law, “Written Evidence Submitted by the Centre for Human Rights Law to the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan and South Sudan Inquiry: UK-Sudan Relations − Consequences of Engagement,” August 2016, https://www.soas.ac.uk/human-rights-law/reports-research-projects-and-submissions/file114315.pdf
- European Commission, “The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) in Sudan,” July 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/trustfundforafrica/sites/euetfa/files/sudan_factsheet_july_0.pdf
Last updated: March 2021
Submission to the Universal Periodic Review
39th Session of the UPR Working Group, October/November 2021
Issues Related to Immigration Enforcement
This submission has been prepared by the Global Detention Project (GDP) for the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Sudan in November 2021.
This submission focuses on human rights concerns relating to Sudan’s immigration enforcement policies.
Sudan is both a country of origin and a host country for migrants and refugees. It also has a very large population of internally displaced people (IDPs), who number more than 2.5 million. According to UNHCR, as of 31 January 2021, there were 1,074,527 refugees and asylum seekers in the country—30 percent settled in camps, and 70 per cent out of camps—the majority of whom are from South Sudan.[i]
The outbreak of conflict in conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region in November 2020 has severely aggravated the humanitarian situation in Sudan as tens of thousands of Ethiopian refugees have fled the region and crossed into Sudan.[ii] According to UNHCR, in just one day in November 2020, some 5,000 refugees arrived at the country’s border provinces of Kassala and al-Qadarif.[iii] According to the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC), “Over 56,000 Ethiopian refugees have crossed into Sudan between November 2020 and January 2021.”[iv] UNHCR’s Principal Emergency Coordinator in Sudan, commented: “It’s located in such a remote area and it has been challenging to upgrade facilities to minimum standards.” According to the MMC, “While efforts have been made to move refugees away from the border to camps further into Sudan, UNHCR reports many refugees prefer to remain near the border crossings to wait for family members still in Ethiopia, or to be able to return home soon.”[v]
With growing numbers of arrivals, shelters and reception capacity are under increasing pressure and authorities are facing a rush to identify and provide more sites. A transit centre in Hamdayet, which has capacity for 300 people, was reported in November 2020 to be hosting 12,000.[vi] In addition, several thousand people have been placed in the Um Rakouba (Um Raquba) refugee camp, but authorities are struggling to provide sufficient services.[vii] The MMC reports that “there have been concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 virus, with the border transit camps lacking sufficient WASH structures (WHH) and capacity for testing and adequate protection equipment (UNHCR). To ease the pressure on these transit camps, relocations were carried out at the end of 2020 and early 2021 to Umraquba and Tunaydbah refugee camps, located further inland Sudan. Both are camps first setup in the 1980s to host Ethiopian refugees then driven out of the country by famine. The camps are expected to host around 20,000 Ethiopian refugees.”[viii]
Sudan maintains a reservation on Article 26 of the UN Refugee Convention (Article 26 provides for refugees’ freedom of movement and the ability to choose their place of residence) and requires refugees to stay in designated camps. However, 76 per cent of South Sudanese refugees live in the local community in urban and rural areas. Refugees that leave camps without permission are subject to fines and are returned to the camps, while those apprehended in urban areas face arrest and detention if they lack valid identification cards. The U.S. State Department estimates that each month, 150 to 200 refugees and asylum seekers are detained in Khartoum.[ix]
According to Article 31(3) of Sudan’s Asylum Regulation Act of 2014[x] “a refugee shall be deemed to have committed a contravention, and shall be punished, with such fine, as may be specified by the court (…) where he: (a) departs from such place, as may have been specified, for his residence, without permission; (b) does not hold a valid asylum card.” Moreover, Article 29 of the same Act specifies that “no penalties, by reason of the unlawful entry, or presence, shall be inflicted on asylum seekers, who directly have come from such territories, as therein their life, or freedom is in danger, and who enter, or are present on Sudanese lands; on condition that they shall present themselves, within one month, to the nearest Commission office, of government authority, and have good cause for their unlawful entry or presence.”
In a joint submission to the 2nd cycle of the Universal Periodic Review of Sudan, a group of civil society organisations highlighted that while the Act strengthened legal protection for refugees and individuals in need of international protection, law enforcement and judicial authorities did not consistently apply the new provisions.[xi] UNHCR has expressed concern about forced returns and refoulement cases in Sudan, including incident where Eritreans have been sent back through the Laffa border crossing point after having been convicted on charges of illegal entry. The asylum seekers were not given access to asylum procedures and their deportations amounted to refoulement, thus constituting serious violations of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Sudanese Asylum Regulation Act.[xii]
Reports in the past have indicated that the country uses prisons for the detention of non-nationals for migration-related reasons, as well as ad hoc immigration detention facilities. For example, in September 2017, local media reported that 36 Eritrean refugees had served two-month prison sentences for “illegal infiltration into the Sudanese territory,” prior to their deportation.[xiii] The U.S. State Department, UNHCR, and media outlets have also referred to immigration detention facilities, including an “Aliens Detention Centre” in Khartoum. The GDP has not been able to identify the exact locations of these facilities or verify if they remain in use.[xiv]
In 2016, German media (Spiegel and Report Mainz) obtained documents that showed that EU efforts to curb migration in the country focused on policing the border with Eritrea, and included plans to establish two camps with detention rooms in Gadaraf and Kassala.[xv] Although the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development reported that these plans were binding, the SOAS Centre for Human Rights Law later reported that the plans had been dropped following widespread criticism.[xvi] To-date, the GDP has been unable to independently verify the status of these plans.
Observers have expressed concerns that EU funds provided to Sudan for migration-management purposes (including as part of the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and other projects supporting the EU-Africa Khartoum Process) have been used in activities involving severe human rights violations. In 2016, these concerns became acute in the wake of reports that the RSF paramilitary force (Rapid Support Force, an outgrowth of the notorious Janjaweed militia), which had been hired to curb migration using EU funds, had been involved in the arrest and deportation of hundreds of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers, including along the border with Libya to implement migration-control activities developed in the scope of the Khartoum Process. In March 2019, funding for the EU’s “Better Migration Management” project in Sudan—which supported the training of border control forces and policies—was suspended amid fears that the funds were being used to fund the security forces, including the RSF, responsible for violently suppressing peaceful protests. However, as of July 2020, the programme appeared to have resumed.[xviii]
Prison conditions also remain an issue of concern and the U.S. State Department has described them as “harsh and life threatening, overcrowding was a major problem.”[xix] The COVID-19 pandemic has exasperated these concerns. The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) stated that “detainees are also forced to live in inhumane conditions, including rudimentary infrastructures, overcrowded cells, insufficient ventilation, no proper nutrition or hygiene. These conditions have particularly been highlighted in the pandemic context which has exacerbated the vulnerability of inmates.”[xx] In April, the International Committee of the Red Cross installed 83 hand washing stations in around 10 prisons, distributed 10,700 soap bars to detainees, and also provided gloves and masks to 11 detention facilities.[xxi]
3. RECOMMENDATIONS DURING THE 2ND CYCLE OF UPR
During the 2nd cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Sudan (33rd session, April/May 2016) Sudan agreed to examine several recommendations relevant to its immigration and refugee laws and policies.[xxii] These included:
● Ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Italy, Honduras, Guatemala, Vietnam, Uruguay, Congo, France, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Lebanon, Togo, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Denmark, Poland, El Salvador) (para. 138.7).
● Ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Philippines, Ghana) (para. 138.11).
● Expedite adoption of a Constitution and adopt of measures to ensure that all national laws are in conformity with international human rights law (Botswana) (para. 138.15).
● Re-examine laws that restrict political freedom and freedom of expression, and lead to arbitrary arrests, detention, executions and torture, as part of wider effort to strengthen the rule of law (Japan) (para. 138.22).
● Ensure safety of refugees and asylum seekers by also seeking international assistance (Nigeria) (para. 138.126).
4. RECOMMENDATIONS FROM OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS BODIES
In 2019, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended that “the State party should take the steps necessary to protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees under the Covenant and other international standards, including by ensuring that all persons seeking asylum have the right to apply for asylum, to an individualised assessment of their asylum claims, to appeal and to effective protection against non-refoulement. It should refrain from conducting, under any circumstances, collective expulsions of migrants and asylum seekers.”[xxiii]
In its concluding observations of 2010, the Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that Sudan “amend the Asylum Act in accordance with international refugee law and include specific refugee status determination procedures and measures to address the specific needs of asylum-seeking children. The State party should ensure, particularly, that the principle of non-refoulement is respected in all decisions with respect to asylum-seeking children. The Committee encourages the State party to seek technical assistance from UNHCR in this regard.”[xxiv] The Committee also recommended that the State party “(c) Consider ratifying the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.”[xxv]
Since the second cycle of the UPR (33rd session, April/May 2016), Sudan has yet to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment or to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. There are on-going concerns about the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. There have been cases where asylum seekers were not given access to asylum procedures and have been deported back to their countries of origin without appropriate consideration. There are on-going concerns about how EU funding for migration-management projects may be diverted into activities that violate the rights of refugees. There is very little publicly available information concerning where refugees may be held when they are taken into custody, the status of various detention centre projects that had been slated for funding by the EU, or the extent to which migrants and refugees are detained.
With the outbreak of conflict in neighbouring Tigray region in Ethiopia, all of the above-mentioned concerns take on new urgency.
We call on the Sudanese Government to:
● Ensure that EU development and migration management funds—such as the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and the EU Better Migration Management—are not used to finance the activities of police, security, or militia forces involved in human rights abuses.
● Ensure the application of the Asylum Regulations Act 2014, including providing access to asylum procedures.
● Retract reservation to Article 26 of the UN Refugee Convention and ensure refugees’ freedom of movement and the ability to choose their place of residence.
● Ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
● Ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.
● Provide information on where – and in what conditions – refugees and migrants are detained for reasons related to their nationality, or asylum, refugee or residence status.
● Disclose data on the number of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers who are detained.
● Disclose information clarifying measures being taken to protect immigration detainees during the pandemic.
● Ensure observance of the principle of non-refoulement.
● Release detainees whose detention is unlawful or unnecessary, including anyone whose deportation is not possible amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
● Avoid deportation measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
● Ensure that sites used to accommodate refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, and stateless persons are adequately equipped with sanitation supplies and have implemented other measures to prevent spread of COVID-19.
[ii] UNHCR, “Aid Urgently Needed for Ethiopians Streaming Into Sudan,” 17 November 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/latest/2020/11/5fb3cb3e4/aid-urgently-needed-ethiopians-streaming-sudan.html
[iii] S. Magdy, “UN: Over 25,300 Fleeing Ethiopia Have Reached Sudan,” AP News, 16 November 2020, https://apnews.com/article/sudan-abiy-ahmed-africa-ethiopia-united-nations-0a37839e6b61e523fcaf9345a1a48583
[vi] UNHCR, “Aid Urgently Needed for Ethiopians Streaming Into Sudan,” 17 November 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/latest/2020/11/5fb3cb3e4/aid-urgently-needed-ethiopians-streaming-sudan.html
[vii] S. Magdy, “UN: Over 25,300 Fleeing Ethiopia Have Reached Sudan,” AP News, https://apnews.com/article/sudan-abiy-ahmed-africa-ethiopia-united-nations-0a37839e6b61e523fcaf9345a1a48583
[ix] U.S. Department of State, “2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Sudan,” 2020, https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/sudan/
[xi] African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), “Submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Sudan 2016,” September 2015, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRSDStakeholdersInfoS25.aspx
[xiii] Dabanga Sudan, “Sudan Deports Another 36 Eritrean Migrants,” 20 September 2017, www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/sudan-deports-another-36-eritrean-migrants
[xv] Spiegel, “EU to Work with African Despot to Keep Refugees Out,” 13 May 2016, www.spiegel.de/international/world/eu-to-work-with-despot-in-sudan-to-keep-refugees-out-a-1092328.html
[xvi] SOAS Centre for Human Rights Law, “Written Evidence Submitted by the Centre for Human Rights Law to the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan and South Sudan Inquiry: UK-Sudan Relations – Consequences of Engagement,” August 2016, www.soas.ac.uk/human-rights-law/reports-research-projects-and-submissions/file114315.pdf
[xviii] T. Wills, “EU Suspends Migration Control Projects in Sudan Amid Repression Fears,”DW, 22 June 2019, www.dw.com/en/eu-suspends-migration-control-projects-in-sudan-amid-repression-fears/a-49701408; European Union, “The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) in Sudan: Key Facts and Figures,” July 2020, www.ec.europa.eu/trustfundforafrica/sites/euetfa/files/sudan_factsheet_july_0.pdf
[xx] ACJPS and OMCT, “Post COVID-19 Era in Sudan: The Urgency to Unravel the Torture and Inhuman Treatments System One Year After the Transition,” July 2020, https://www.omct.org/files/2020/07/25966/briefing_paper_on_torture_in_sudan.pdf
[xxi] ICRC, “Sudan: Helping Prison Authorities Keep COVID-19 at Bay,” 27 April 2020, https://www.icrc.org/en/document/sudan-helping-prison-authorities-prevent-covid-19-spread
[xxii] UN Human Rights Council, “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Sudan,” A/HRC/33/8, 11 July 2016, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/149/10/PDF/G1614910.pdf?OpenElement
[xxiii] UN Human Rights Committee, “Concluding Observations on the Fifth Periodic Report of the Sudan,” CCPR/C/SDN/CO/5, 19 November 2018, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR%2fC%2fSDN%2fCO%2f5&Lang=en
[xxiv] Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 44 of the Convention: Concluding Observations: Sudan,” CRC/C/SDN/CO/3-4, 22 October 2010, para. 69, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRC%2fC%2fSDN%2fCO%2f3-4&Lang=en
[xxv] Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 44 of the Convention: Concluding Observations: Sudan,” CRC/C/SDN/CO/3-4, 22 October 2010, para. 71, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRC%2fC%2fSDN%2fCO%2f3-4&Lang=en