Eritrea: Ending the Exodus?
8 Aug 2014
Eritrea’s youth exodus has significantly reduced the young nation’s human capital. While this has had advantages for the government – allowing the departure of those most dissatisfied
and most likely to press for political change – the growing social and political impact of mass migration at home and abroad demands concerted domestic and international action.
“The state’s demand for the sacrifice of individual ambition to the greater good of the Eritrean nation... causes more and more Eritreans to leave the country, even if that means risking their lives”.
Cedric Barnes, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director
Authoritarian rule, social malaise and open-ended national service drive thousands of young people to flee Eritrea every month, exposing the shortcomings of a leadership that has lost the confidence of the next generation. The International Crisis Group’s latest briefing, Eritrea: Ending the Exodus?, shows that while the government turned this flight to its advantage for a time, the scale – and attendant criminality – of the exodus are now pressing problems.
The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:
- As in the past, Eritreans are fleeing for political and economic reasons, including to sustain the communities they leave behind. But through their remittances, as well as a tax that many in the diaspora pay the state, they help prop up the very system they escaped.
- Regional and wider international policies to further isolate Eritrea’s uncompromising leadership are counterproductive. Together with the border conflict with Ethiopia, they provide the regime with justification to maintain Eritrea’s “state of exception”, including an unending national service, a closed political system and the continued deferment of constitutional rights, especially individual social and economic freedoms.
- The Eritrean government, with help from international partners, especially the EU and UN, should work toward gradual demobilisation and restructure the country’s economy to enhance job prospects for the young.
“The exodus is symptomatic of social malaise and growing disaffection with the regime” says Cedric Barnes, Horn of Africa Project Director. “The state’s demand for the sacrifice of individual ambition to the greater good of the Eritrean nation – resigning oneself to indefinite national service – causes more and more Eritreans to leave the country, even if that means risking their lives”.
“The impact of the exodus on final-destination countries demands a new approach to the current Eritrean government. In a Europe where immigration policies are increasingly in question, the Eritrean problem cannot be ignored”, says Comfort Ero, Africa Program Director. “For all sides, finding ways to end the exodus could replace continuing sterile confrontation with fertile ground for cooperation”.