ILO's Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon presenting on Labour Migration Governance for Development and Integration in Africa. © IOM/Craig Murphy 2014

By T. Craig MURPHY

Tragic events resulting in the loss of thousands of lives of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea have led to the start of an important political process:  the EU-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative (HoAMRI), known as the “Khartoum Process.”  Political factors and migration dynamics in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East have resulted in a surge of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to enter the European Union, often through Italy, Malta, and Greece.

Approximately 40,000 migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, arrived in Europe in 2013. During the first nine months of 2014, the Italian Ministry of Interior reported the arrival of 138,796 individuals.  According to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, there were 711 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean for all of 2012; in 2013, there were 707 deaths; while for the first three quarters of 2014 alone, 3,072 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean have already been recorded.  This is  a 334 % increase from the past year’s figures.

The leading nationalities comprising the mixed migratory flows to Europe are Syrian and Eritrean.  After Syria and Eritrea, the next five largest sending countries in 2014 were Mali (8,532), Nigeria (6,951), Gambia (6,179), Palestine (4,223) and Somalia (4,113)[1].

In October 2013, the dramatic sinking of 3 migrant boats in the Central Mediterranean over a 9-day period resulted in the deaths of over 500 migrants and triggered unprecedented media coverage. This highlighted the risks that smuggled and trafficked migrants and refugees face in their attempt to reach Europe. Throughout 2014, the surge of migrants crossing the Mediterranean has been mirrored by boat accidents and rescue at sea by the Italian Government’s Operation Mare Nostrum. The Amnesty International Report “Lives Adrift” lists 10 separate migrant boat mishaps in the Mediterranean over a four-month period, from May to August 2014.[2]

It is against the backdrop of this humanitarian emergency that the European Union and the African Union Commission launched the Khartoum Process to foster dialogue on addressing the root causes of irregular migration in an effort to avoid further loss of migrant lives at sea. The initiative brings together countries of origin, transit and destination along the migratory routes from the Horn of Africa to Europe.

The expected results of the Khartoum Process are to establish a dialogue for enhancing cooperation, while identifying and implementing concrete projects to address trafficking in human beings and the smuggling of migrants.  In doing this, the European and African states involved in the Khartoum process will work to: (1) create a framework for policy and dialogue; (2) share knowledge and experiences to strengthen cooperation with the support of international organizations like IOM, UNHCR, and UNODC;  and (3) seek funding opportunities and facilitate resource mobilization to support concrete projects.

The Khartoum Process brings together the following core countries: Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, South Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, and Kenya, as well as fundamental countries of transit – including Libya, Egypt, and possibly Tunisia. EU member states are involved in the process from the perspective of destination countries.

The Khartoum Process is a high level, inter-continental political process that harmonizes existing AU and EU-led components. On the AU side the efforts against trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants are guided by the African Union Migration Policy Framework for Africa, the Ouagadougou Action Plan, and the AU Commission Initiative Against Trafficking (COMMIT). On the EU side, the initiative is rooted in the Task Force Mediterranean (TFM), set up in the wake of the October 2013 loss of migrant lives in the central Mediterranean. Additionally, the Khartoum Process is anchored in the EU-Africa Action Plan on Migration and Mobility 2014-2017.

A preparatory meeting was held in Khartoum on 22 May 2014 between the EU and AU.  This paved the way for a Regional Conference on Human Trafficking and Smuggling from 13-14 October, a Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) in 15 October, and a Ministerial Meeting in 16 October 2014.  All meetings were held in Khartoum and hosted by the government of Sudan.

During the Regional Conference, all countries were present for two days of discussions on mixed migratory flows from the Horn of Africa to Europe with a focus on trafficking and smuggling.  Partner organizations such as IOM, UNHCR, ILO, UNODC, IGAD, and the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS) were present and contributed through presentations and thematic support in the working groups in 14 October.

On 15 October, the third day, Mr. Olawale Maiyegun, Director of the African Union Commission, opened the Senior Officials Meeting. This was followed by updates and analyses from the European Commission DG HOME representatives Mr. Laurent Muschel and Mr. Dragos Tudorache. Director Marco del Panta of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Italy underscored the urgency and solidarity that the EU has with the AU over the Khartoum Process.

There was a presentation and a reading of the Draft Declaration of the Khartoum Process, which opened the floor for AU member states to debate and discuss the content and text of the Declaration. The purpose of this was to allow Senior Officials to brief their respective Ministers in preparation for the Ministerial Meeting that was held on 16 October.  Several of the delegations requested further time to review the Declaration, as well as to have copies translated into both French and Arabic. This request was granted and following the Ministerial Meeting, the Draft Declaration was endorsed.

These efforts are leading to the next Ministerial meeting in Rome on 28 November, in which the Khartoum Declaration will be adopted and the Khartoum Process formally launched.

The magnitude of the number of migrants entering Europe, and the lives lost in the process, have led to this necessary political process. No single state or organization can solve this dilemma on its own. State dialogue, political will, resources, and technical support of international organizations are required. Political discussions may be time-consuming and progress hard to initially gauge, but the foundation for effectively addressing this humanitarian crisis at the political level is being set for the Horn of Africa and Europe with the Khartoum Process.


[1] IOM Press Briefing Note, 10 Oct 2014: Mediterranean Irregular Migrants: Syria Now Top Sending Country

[2] Amnesty International Report, “Lives Adrift: Refugees and Migrants in Peril in Central Mediterranean” pgs. 14-15.