• Youth for Refugees

Why do Eritrean refugees flee their home country?

it is important to know why refugees flee their home countries, as it shows the turmoil they have been through and why they truly deserve a better life. A country which many refugees flee is Eritrea. Eritrea is an African country, the capital is Asmara, and it has a population of 3.5 million as of May 2020. The life expectancy of Eritrea is 65 years, as of 2017. Both Ella and I have met a few Eritrean refugees because Calais has a large Eritrean community.

Eritrea has been independent of Ethiopia for 26 years now, and since then it has been ruled by President Isaias Afwerki. In Eritrea, opposition parties are banned and the judiciary is not independent, but President Afwerki has dismissed claims by rights groups that his government rules a very strictly controlled country, which leads to thousands of residents leaving every year to escape the abuse of rights & enforced national service. Football players have also fled while playing abroad: seven went missing after their final game at a recent regional tournament in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

There are many problems in Eritrea that have sparked international human rights defenders to question Eritrea’s leadership and the authoritarian nature of the government. This is evident with the indefinite military service. This comes with severely limited rights for all Eritrean citizens, but younger citizens who are forced into a lengthy period of national service are particularly badly affected. The UN describes national service as ‘enslavement’ but national service still remains a primary factor as to why many people flee Eritrea each month. Almost 15 per cent of the population has fled since the 1998 war, and according to the United National High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of Eritreans who have fled rose after the opening of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border, following the conflict, in 2018. The payment that conscripts receive has been deemed insufficient and they are subject to degrading punishment. Not every conscript has a military role, many are assigned to other forms of labour such as farm work and construction work.

The education system in Eritrea is also flawed, in the sense that it is used for, what could be described as, indoctrination purposes, to prepare young Eritreans for national service when they turn 18. They are forced to spend their final year of education in a violent military camp and use teachers that are only there to their national service deployment. The manner in which the Eritrean government has used the education system poses a serious threat to young Eritreans’ right to education. There have been reports of, due to insufficient pay that was mentioned earlier, teachers being constantly absent and a lack of motivation in students due to poor teaching. The education system questions article 26 on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it is something to be seriously concerned about.

Article 18 on the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights also declares the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This is questioned in Eritrea, particularly when we look at a situation in 2001 when the government abolished the private press and arrested 10 journalists and detained them without trial. This has not since resumed operations and the government also does not permit NGOs. Government secrecy in Eritrea means that it is impossible to determine how many political prisoners are currently imprisoned, but there have been reports of poor conditions in Eritrean prisons. Visitors are also not allowed in many Eritrean prisons. The incarceration of Eritrean citizens based solely on their political activity therefore also questions Article 19, which declares the human right to free association & assembly. Freedom of religion is not possible for residents of Eritrea. The government only recognises Sunni Islam, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical churches. It is an offence to recognise other religions in the country, and Eritrean officials will often raid homes and spaces where it is thought other religions are being recognised.

In April 2020, Refugee Info Bus posted an open letter from the Eritrean refugee community in Calais, which is a complaint of the CRS activity in Calais. It recounts the tear-gassing that has been committed against the refugees, the fact that the CRS has broken the arm of a refugee due to their violence, and that the CRS has hospitalised refugees due to their violence. Eritrean refugees are stripped of their human rights in their home country and flee in search of a better life. For refugees, this is, however, much more difficult than it seems. The CRS is partly funded by the UK government and questions Article 3 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights” Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”, and also Article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cure inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. The ‘defence’ that is in place in Northern France is clearly stripping refugees of their basic human rights. It isn’t acceptable, and something needs to be done.

I want to end on a quote from an Eritrean refugee who Ella herself spoke to. He said 'Bad things are happening in the jungle, are we human beings or not?'. All refugees deserve a better life and ultimately deserve to have their human rights acknowledged and respected. It's heartbreaking that this is the mindset of refugees - they are all, undoubtedly, deserving human beings.

I hope that this post has shed some light on why Eritrean refugees leave their country. I have listed the sources I used below! Please keep safe, keep social distancing and don’t forget about what’s happening elsewhere in the world!



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