On Tuesday, Sylvi Listhaug embarked on a seven-day journey to East and North Africa. Besides Sudan, she will also visit Ethiopia and Kenya. One of the focal points of her tour is to curb the influx of refugees from the area.
With porous borders stretching 8,000 kilometers, Sudan is known as the main road to the Mediterranean for East African migrants. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have chosen this route to Europe.
"I'm here to look at the possibility of working with Sudanese authorities to limit the migration flow northwards, to support the work to help migrants locally and to assess opportunities to return," Sylvi Listhaug told national broadcaster NRK, stressing that a return agreement with Sudan, which is itself a source of refugees, is sought-after.
"It is disappointing to see how far Norway and Europe are willing to go to prevent people from escaping to our part of the world," Beate Ekeløve-Slydal, political adviser at Amnesty Norway, said.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague previously alleged that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir bore individual criminal responsibility for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed since 2003 in Darfur. According to the UN estimate, at least 300,000 were killed and 2 million were displaced in in Darfur.
"It is a big paradox that one is willing to cooperate with such a regime," Ekeløve-Slydal said.
Previously, cooperation on migration control with Khartoum was initiated by the EU. The agreement includes, among other things, providing registration equipment together with scanners, cameras and other devices for keeping track of refugees in Sudan. In addition, the EU will provide training to the Sudanese border police and establish two migrant camps. Norway is part of the cooperation, as part of its close association with the EU.
"The [Sudanese] regime is not particularly known for using silk gloves, so we wonder how the border surveillance will work in practice to prevent persecuted and at-risk people from safely escaping Sudan," Beate Ekeløve-Slydal said.
"I prefer that they either go to Europe or return to their home countries instead of staying here. There will be complications to integrating them into society here," Sudanese Interior Minister, General Hamid Manan told the Verdens Gang daily, stressing the practical difficulties.
Sudan, a country of 36 million, is currently facing economic woes as a result of dwindling oil revenues and galloping inflation.
In 2017, the number of asylum seekers to Norway dropped markedly, following decisive efforts by Listhaug. The total number of asylum applications dropped from 30,000 in 2015 to 3,500 in 2017 and hit their lowest point since 1995 toward the end of the year, the Norwegian Migration Board reported.