Tens of thousands of Eritreans trying to start from scratch each year in Europe. To do face a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, in many cases, ends with death. However, despite the high risk, the flight seems to be better to get trapped in this impoverished country in the Horn of Africa ruled dictatorially alternative.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Eritreans are the second nationality of migrants and refugees fleeing their country in flimsy boats, behind only the Syrians.
”The main cause of their flight is the incredible repression of all freedoms holding the government,” says Leslie Lefkow, deputy director for Africa of the humanitarian organization Human Rights Watch. In Eritrea there is no opposition as such as there is no independent media and civil associations.
For years, thousands of dissidents met prison in terrible conditions. The US State Department accused the country of kidnappings, torture and assassinations of opponents, among other crimes.
President Isaias Afwerki has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1993, when Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia. So sometimes it is qualified as ”African Korea North” for its resemblance to the dictatorship of Kim Jong-un. And is that Eritrea is also virtually isolated: no independent voices in the country, the international media can not send reporters and is very difficult to get a visa. Even the UN special envoy to check the situation of human rights Sheila B. Keetharuth could enter the country.
Last year, one in five refugees who arrived by sea to Italy came from Eritrea. According to UNHCR, the total figure was 34,300. And the situation in Greece is similar. Once they reach European shores, Eritrean asylum seekers especially in Sweden, Germany and Switzerland. According to the German immigration authorities in 2014 applied for asylum in the country 13,200 Eritreans, surpassed only by the Syrians (39,300) and Serbs (17,200).
They are mostly young people who they escape to Europe. And among the reasons the military has a special weight: Eritrea obliges all its citizens, without exception, to be 18 months of armed service. However, many are held for years against their will, something that humanitarian organizations qualify as modern slavery. ”That’s one of the great causes of the exodus from Eritrea,” Lefkow said. ”A little recruits are paid and often mistreated.”
In fact, slavery and forced labor are prohibited in Eritrea. But according to the US State Department, since 1998 there is a law that allows skipping the law because of the war with Ethiopia, at that time the state of emergency was declared.
The Eritrean government considers the massive flight from the country with cynicism. Says young people and critics leave the country, helping to stabilize the regime, and welcomes how many refugees regularly send money to their families from abroad. Furthermore, according to the UN, the government imposes a ”diaspora tax” of 2 percent revenue refugees, either through embassies, illegal collectors or during a possible visit home.
In addition to political repression, among the motives behind the Eritreans to flee poverty figure also living engulfed the country. According to Development Index of the United Nations, which includes factors such as health or schooling, Eritrea is in fifth place in the world ranking. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the GDP of this country of six million inhabitants in 2014 stood at about $ 4 million (for comparison: the German was about 3,800,000 million).