Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Fleeing Oppression and a Bleak Future

"There is no war. I do not see the use of people being stationed on the border always as if there is war, and I cannot imagine myself spending years of my life on that border. It is stupid."
"I wanted to avoid [conscription] because it is a nonsense activity, both for the country and for me."
Rahel, 16-year-old Eritrean migrant

"The main reason for fleeing remains the national service. They [young Eritrean men] are voting with their feet. I don't consider them economic migrants."
"From recently collected data, those leaving Eritrea are getting younger. Children represent our future and as Eritrean children increasingly cross international borders the future of Eritrea is walking away."
Sheila Keetharuth, United Nations Special Rappateur, human rights, Eritrea
Conscripted Eritrean youth

Eritrea has fought a number of wars with Ethiopia since it broke away from the larger Horn of Africa country. Relations between the two countries remain fraught, but there is no war now between them and within Eritrea civil unrest is at a minimum. Even so, its youth is leaving in droves. They have joined the exodus linked with hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing their civil war to find hoped-for haven in Europe.

And while Syrian refugees are given due consideration, fleeing a deadly totalitarian government, Eritreans find far less of a welcome.

They are considered to be economic migrants and as such not deserving of the welcome mat put out for Syrians. But these young Eritreans see no future for themselves in their country of birth. Rather, they see servitude and loss of hope for their futures. The government of Eritrea speaks of a limited conscription period to last no longer than 18 months. Reality is that Eritrean boys and girls as young as 16, even the elderly are swept up into the conscription program that is really a forced labour program.

While the Eritrean government continually informs its population that the threat of invasion from Ethiopia is imminent and Eritrea must be prepared to repel their neighbour from its aggressive intention, the 1998 - 2000 war shows no signs of repeating itself. Yet a 1995 law remains in effect, requiring every adult Eritrean to commit without fail to an 18-month national service period in their lives.
A group of Eritrean refugees prepare to board a plane …
A group of Eritrean refugees prepare to board a plane to travel to Sweden as part of a new EU program -- AFP

The result of which has been that last year Eritreans represented the second-largest migrant group after Syrians to flood European borders. Some countries such as the United Kingdom and Denmark claim an improved condition has taken place in the experience of conscripts, so those fleeing the country no longer have legitimate grounds for claiming asylum. Leading the UK to reject 66% of such cases in 2015 while Germany accepted four-fifths of applications for asylum by Eritreans in the same period.

Many describe their reason for fleeing due to their already having been conscripted for the due period of commitment, yet no sign has appeared of when they could expect to be demobilized. Many are 16- and 17-year-olds who fled ahead of conscription. Unaccompanied minors from Ethiopia now represent a high proportion of migrants from the country. They aspire to have an education. They hope to be able to live a normal life somewhere other than the country of the government that has oppressed them.

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