Some of my students in the past year were refugees from Eritrea. They were all stunningly beautiful women; not one of them was very confident about her abilities or very likely to talk about her past.
So I remained mostly in ignorance about the Eritrean crisis until the past few weeks, as I’ve been writing about refugees from all over the world and finding out more about the situations back home. I had no idea that:
-Eritreans make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea by the hundreds, trying to reach Europe directly instead of waiting for years in dangerous refugee camps, waiting for an appointment with the UN refugee agency for resettlement. Only one country sends more of her people in boats to Europe: Syria.
-Thousands of Eritreans are trying to flee the mandatory conscription into government service, where they will be sent (no matter if they’re still teens or whether they’re boys or girls or if they have children who will be left alone without parents) to work in anything from the military to the mining operations, paid no more than 2 dollars a day.
-Because there are so many unaccompanied children who are trying to escape from a country that has conscripted their fathers and mothers, there is a huge problem with human trafficking. All these little kids without parents are a gold mine for traffickers. (This breaks my heart.)
-People get thrown into jail–or just disappear–if they speak against the government and its leader, President Isaias Afewerki, who has been in charge ever since Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia back in the early 1990s.
-Eritrea is sometimes called the North Korea of Africa.
This article from the Guardian is especially moving and informative.
Eritrea is geographically a gorgeous country. But it hasn’t seen peace since before the Italians colonized the country over 100 years ago.