Commentary

Eritrea: Fleeing Slavery

People will continue to flee Eritrea. Even the EU’s attempts at restricting immigration won’t change anything, because without the will for reform, European funding only benefits the regime, writes Nicole Hirt on ZEIT ONLINE.

Forced labour for the military and the government – the so-called national service, which up to 400,000 recruits aged 18 to 50 are currently required to perform in Eritrea, is nothing more than this. It isn’t possible to feed a family from the pay, and the recruits are forced to live where the government sends them and to do whatever their commanders instruct them to. Deserters are interned in detention camps.

Only a minority of more educated people enjoy the privilege of serving in the administration, in the health service, or as teachers. The majority toil in the fields or in construction, or lug rocks. Next to the absence of the rule of law and of democracy, the service is the key reason for the monthly exodus of approximately 5,000 people, from a population of four million. Neighbouring countries Sudan and Ethiopia are each host to over 120,000 refugees.

That the national service is actually a form of slavery and that other crimes against humanity – such as disappearances, persecution, and murder – have been carried out in Eritrea was also recently determined by a commission of inquiry from the UN Human Rights Council. It recommended that the International Criminal Court be called in.

Eritrea caught the attention of European politicians when the number of asylum seekers rose to over 40,000 in both 2014 and 2015. European delegations travelled to the country to speak with government representatives about cooperative efforts to limit the number of refugees.

On the one hand, the EU talks about fighting the causes of Eritreans’ flight from the country; on the other, it initiated the highly problematic Khartoum Process in 2014. In cooperation with presidents such as Sudan’s al-Bashir and Eritrea’s Afewerki, both of whom are suspected of crimes against humanity, migration in the Horn of Africa is to be “regulated.”

Read the entire text in ZEIT ONLINE (German).

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Nicole Hirt is a political scientist and an associate research fellow at the GIGA.

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