Eritrea: The Plight of Eritrea - Why Eritreans Opt for Risky Exodus to Ethiopia
By Zeray Hailemariam
Ethiopia is the largest refugee hosting country in Africa. Close to a million refugees are housed in the country so far. The largest number of refugee is from South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, which totals more than 800,000 as of 2016. The rest are from Yemen, Sudan, Djibouti, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo etc.
The main cause for the influx of refugees from South Sudan is the deadly civil war which erupted in 2014. The clan based civil war and currently the worst ever drought induced hunger caused the largest South Sudanese exodus to Ethiopia.
The case of the Somali refugees is also understandable. The country has been without a functioning central government for the last 25 years. This political gap created suitable environment for various internationally linked terrorist groups and local warlords to operate freely exposing the Somali people to various form of subjugation, murder, rape and robbery. Hence, the situation led to millions of Somali refugee to be scattered all over the world.
On the other hand, the case of Eritrea is different. There is no actual war inside Eritrea. However, there is psychological warfare, fear, torture and killing applied by the regime's security apparatus against those who demand justice, constitutional government and the right to work. The people of Eritrea have generally been exposed to crimes against humanity by the military, security and other wings of the regime. The indefinite national service, forced conscription, lack of employment opportunities and access to education, lack of freedom to work, speak, absence of liberty and other form of oppression frustrated the mass.
The UN Human Rights Council has explicitly expressed concerns of crime against humanity inside Eritrea by the tyranny regime in Asmara. Shortly, the horror the Eritreans face every day and the terrifying political environment accompanied with lack of space to earn for living caused untold mass exodus. As a result, Eritrea is graduated as one of the largest refugee producing tiny states in the Red Sea. Currently, nothing good is coming out of the state, leading the international community to voice its concerns.
It is globally known hard fact that the Eritrean regime is the main cause for the Eritrean refugee influx. The oppressive nature of the regime driven every Eritrean composed of soldier, diplomats, military colonels, security officers, farmers, aged people, children and students to flee their own country to escape torture, hunger, indefinite free national service and death horror. As a result, some 21 to 25 per cent of the population becomes refugees. This statistics enabled Eritrea to be the second largest refugee producing country after the war-torn Syria. What makes this reality horrifying is that a tiny country with about five million people produces the largest refugees in the world. Researchers should go in detail to find out the main pushing factors inside of the country.
It is also known that Eritrea does not have courts, constitution, election, freedom of religion, nationalities, and speech, and ultimately the right to live. The political crisis has brought economic crisis which are confusing the population including the higher officials. Nobody in Eritrea, except President Issayas Afworqi and his few followers is mindful of where Eritrea is heading. It was right for the UNSC to say: "Eritrea is ruled by fear not by rule of law". Every citizen of Eritrea completely agrees with the explanation of the United Nations Security Council regarding the country's current situation.
It is to be recalled that following the inhuman treatment of its people by the regime in Eritrea, the mass exodus of people has resulted in reduction of productivity in all sectors particularly in the agricultural sector. The education, health, military, security and media institutions and churches, rural and urban areas are left empty as the people working there had left the country. This was a big blow for the country's existing political, economic and social issues. This caused untold hunger; hopelessness and social crisis which inspire everyone else flee at whatever cost. Angered by the exodus, Isayas applied shoot and kill policy against anyone suspected of fleeing the country in the border areas. However, the inhuman policy did not stop the influx. The human traffickers coordinated by the military generals, security authorities have intensified their efforts to letting the people to flee.
In Eritrea, the only University of Asmara built during the reign of Haile-Selassie is closed and no Eritrean joins universities. The fate of the current Eritrean generation is ending up delivering national service forcefully without getting paid. Hence, everyone who reaches grade 10 tends to drop out of school to join the national service and other futile activities of the regime. This in turn has frustrated and killed the generation's appetite for education. Therefore, Eritrea is left without educated generation, a danger to the future nation building process.
Hence, the economy is going backwards. The political space is so much tightened. The future seems dangerous and bewildered, dark and uncertain. Hunger is spreading from rural to urban areas reaching each and every household. To summarize, everything is becoming a curse to Eritreans. There is nothing interesting to stay at home. Therefore, everyone is on standby to flee the country.
In the last ten years, Ethiopia has received more than 200 thousand Eritreans comprising all sections of the society. Previously, 500 to 300 Eritreans arrive in Ethiopia per week. However, this month, more than 1000 refugees came to Ethiopia in just one week. Additional well planed research is needed to find out the reason for the increase in the influx. Recently, more than 3,125 refugees entered Ethiopia in just one month, implying the highest refugee influx, Ethiopiafirst.com reported.
Causes of the influx
Politically, there is nothing new happening in Eritrea. Hence, nobody is sure of the influx. The two sanctions put by the United Nations Security Council have also weakened the economy. The regime's new finance policy limited the cash flow and could also be another factor for Eritreans to flee their homeland. The policy does not allow any person to withdraw more than 5000 Nakfa from bank.
New land policy is applied against the families whose sons and daughters hid as there is wave of forced conscription going on. Majority of Eritreans are hopeless about the regime which is restricting them to work, learn and think freely. Since the political leadership is becoming worse than ever, everyone is ready to leave the country by any means possible. However, there are rumours inside Eritrea that the government has intensified its illegal actions on citizens.
The internationally linked human traffickers encouraged by the Eritrean officials are reportedly said that they have intensified activities to work freely since the government wings are becoming too weak to tighten their control. The frustrated military and security officers either work with the human traffickers or become silent allowing the environment suitable for flocking.
Then again, we can also reason out the regime's officials together with the illegal human traffickers mislead the youngsters to flee in order to make profit out of the dollars they get paid by facilitating the dangerous long journey to migration. The regime is said to have been encouraging the productive young people to migrate so that it can collect 2 per cent of the income they would earn later in the form of tax. Hence, it is a lucrative business for the regime to gain remittance and collect hard currency.
However, one should not forget that the main interest of the regime to inspire youngsters to migrate is political. The calculation is that if there is less youth in Eritrea, there would not be organized political pressures on the authorities. Accordingly, there is no force inside the country that is able to organize and challenge Isayas Afworqi. The regime is very successful in this regard though the country is left without productive forces, making the future terrifying.
Ethiopia is a poor country though it has been registering rapid economic growth. There are still millions of citizens living under acute poverty. However, there is generous culture deeply entrenched in the minds of every Ethiopian that sharing what they have with refugees in a normal course of life. And, the positive policy of the government to warmly welcome refugees is also another factor which makes refugees to smile and fell like they are home.
Eritreans who are eligible are admitted to universities here in Ethiopia. They can attend high and elementary schools. They can also benefit from the out of camp policy of Ethiopia. Using these opportunities, thousands of Eritreans are beneficiaries in this regard. Some of them also work and earn. I have never seen a single Eritrean considering him/herself as refugee here in Ethiopia. It is also a good thing that there is a legal opportunity for them to migrate to a thrilled country from Ethiopia.
Refugees from other countries are also beneficiaries of this same policy. Thus, Ethiopia is discharging its responsibilities by providing shelter and other benefits to refugees in the Horn region. The policy aims to create peaceful-coexistence in the future. Rightly, the volatile region of the Horn of Africa will be stable in the near future.