Eritrea: Immigration and The Undying Quest for Freedom – Alex Ndungu Njeru

The current European migrant crisis is probably one of the biggest human tragedies of this decade. According to the United Nations Commission for High Commission for Refugees, by September 1st 2015, over 300,000 people had tried to cross over to the Europe. Whereas a lot of attention and for good measure has been given to persons of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghanistan origin who try to immigrate into Europe, a rather unforgotten people are immigrants from the Horn of Africa. Africans however have been trying to immigrate into Europe long before the current migrant crises started.

One particular country that stands out for its migrant out-flows is Eritrea. Eritrea, the country that sits at on the Eastern shores of the Red sea, has been ruled by the pathological dictator, Isaias Afewerki, after a protracted struggle for independence and secession from Ethiopia. Today the only thing that is common between the two countries, which are still technically in a state of war is the different aberration of Marxism that is practiced in the two countries.

The fissures between Eritrea and Ethiopia appeared in the 1950s when the country was given autonomy within a federated Ethiopia by the United Nations, technically a country within another country. It has to be mentioned that Eritrea and Ethiopia are quite remarkably different, Eritrea had enjoyed relative development under her Italian colonial masters. Ethiopia on the other hand was still a feudal system, ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie and still practiced slavery.

However after Eritrea’s independence in 1993, things started going south rapidly. The country has been ruled as a one party state with very little patience for opposition, press freedom and dissenting voices. The Commission to Protect Journalists ranks the country above Kim Jong’s North Korea as the most censored nation on earth. If you were looking for the classic emblem of a pariah state you wouldn’t get further than Eritrea. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Eritrea is “not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. It has not ratified the Organization of African Unity’s 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, and it does not have national refugee legislation.” In addition the country has always been accused of embracing a belligerent foreign policy, the country has been accused of funding Al-shabab and Tigrinya Peoples Democratic Movement to fight its proxy wars with Ethiopia. The latter is used by the Eritrean government to force young people into forced and indefinite military conscription.

A 2015, report by UNHCR, found that there was prevalent extrajudicial executions, torture (including sexual torture), national service and forced labor may constitute crimes against humanity. This constriction of natural rights and freedoms does seem to be the biggest push factor to immigrant out-flows from Eritrea. But perhaps the biggest accusation the Eritrean predatorial state has always been its forced conscription. The Guardian reports that conscripts receive a measure wage in exchange for, “almost all prospect of personal choice. Conscripts are posted where the government orders them, and remain there for months and often years without being allowed home. Fathers are sometimes away for so long that their children forget who they are.” The Guardian also reports that about 3% of the country’s 6.33 million inhabitants have tried to immigrate. This immigration often takes the form of perilous journeys, across the Egyptian Sahara, Sudan, Libya or the Red Sea, to areas controlled by unscrupulous people smugglers who extort as much as 10,000 US$D for their services. On October 3rd 2013, a fishing boat carrying approximately 518 people capsized off the Cost of Lampedusa-Italy, over 300 died, most of them Eritreans.

Eritrea baffles more in a continent synonymous for baffling phenomena. The country scores abysmally in the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report. The country ranked 182nd in the 187 country index. Life expectancy in Eritrea is 46 years. Only 15 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water. The infant mortality rate is 135 per 1,000 births. There is only one doctor for every 28,000 people and the GDP per capita is a meager 538 US$D.

Whereas a lot of attention has been given to Syrian, Afghani and Iraqi refugees, the tumult in Eritrea should have enough attention by now. The United Nation’s General Assembly met in New York to discuss the next tranche of global development goals “Sustainable Development Goals,” which at best give flippant attention to issues of governance. Well the truth is, the reason Eritreans migrate to Europe is the same reason that the Irish, the English, the Dutch, the Scots, the Italians and many other European people migrated to the United States Migrated to the USA, so may years back.

People do follow a gradient of freedom, they escape from un-freedoms, humans do seek to liberate themselves from debilitating social-economic conditions, that is human and until the world can reach agreements on irreducible and non-negotiable freedoms, people will cross deserts, brave the high-seas climb walls and anything humanly possible to liberate their beings.

Alex Ndungu Njeru wrote in from Kenya