by Kellin McGowan (June 2021)
Over 500,000 Eritreans have taken refuge outside of their home country, fleeing from a political and humanitarian crisis.
Isaias Afwerki: Eritrea’s first and only president, Isaias has been described as a dictator. During his tenure, Afwerki has been accused of jailing his political opponents; overseen a dramatic increase in the Eritrean military’s numbers as a result of his unpopular conscription policy; and canceled elections, cementing his power.
Eritrean Troops: Over 200,000 Eritreans are in the military. Military service in this country is both compulsory and indefinite and starts when an Eritrean reaches the eleventh grade.
Citizens: Some Eritreans flee the country because of the military requirement. Doing so puts not only this group of Eritrans at risk of governmental retaliation but also their families. Consequently, many women and children have also had to flee the region. Eritrean citizens are the victims of extrajudicial killings, sexual crimes, and unjust imprisonment.
United Nations (U.N.): In 2014, the UN’s Human Right Council deemed the Eritrean government’s rule as “rule by fear.” Further, the Council found that perceived opponents are not only the victims of unjustified, random arrests but also disappearances and executions.
Eritrea is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis as a result of human rights abuses committed by those affiliated with the government.
After Eritreans overwhelmingly voted for independence in 1993, Isais Afwerki, whom then-President Clinton considered a “Renaissance leader,” rose to power. A turning point in his rule occurred when notable leaders of his opposition were jailed.
Why is it so hard for Eritrean refugees to find refuge?
The main difficulty in finding refuge lies in the oppressive Eritrean government. Those who flee and are caught are subject to arrest and execution. Further, those who flee put their families, who are held responsible because of their perceived association with the refugee, at risk of the same outcomes.