Eritrea: The Cause and Effect of Youth Migration
Tsehaye Eyassu | 03/25/2017 Many societies and governments acknowledge that the future of a nation is in its youth, and they accordingly invested heavilying healthy and educated youth. To the opposite, the Eritrean youth have been
Tsehaye Eyassu | 03/25/2017
Many societies and governments acknowledge that the future of a nation is in its youth, and they accordingly invested heavilying healthy and educated youth. To the opposite, the Eritrean youth have been subjected to systematic poverty and injustice under the Isaias government for the past two decades. The prospect of a democratic country, where all citizens will work and live in peace, collapsed in the hand of the current government. Over the years, there was no evident effort from the government for the betterment of the youth. An endless national service, a deteriorated education system, and an endless government control crippled the development of a disciplined, self-confident and versatile youth. In the past 15 or so years, the political situation and poverty have steered the young generation to migrate in record numbers. Now Eritrean are suffering economic distress, trauma, cultural disintegration due to harsh and endless migration. The supposed hardworking and resilient people in Africa, and reputed for their heroic struggle against all the odds are now facing untold shame and contempt in the hands of refugee campaigners and human traffickers.
The history of Eritrean people is the history of the youth. During the struggle for independence, they were the pillars of the revolution. After independence, the responsibility of revitalizing the war-torn economy fell on their shoulder. In the first 7 years of independence, a measurable economic impact was made through compulsory national service and student summer campaign. However, the progress fell short due to political unrest and conflicts with neighboring countries. In 1998, Eritrea once again engaged in a border war with Ethiopia. Putting the border issue as a scapegoat, the government of Isaias thwarts the implementation of a constitution and any possible election. As consequence, the year and a half national service have faded and become an indefinite service. According to the Economist, March 10, 2014, one in 20 Eritrean currently live in vast barracks in the dessert. Majority work on reconstruction projects, such as road-building, and earn no more than $20 a month. In the past few years, there is a new rule that inducts all high school graduating class into Sawa camp for military training. In which the majority are mobilized to military camps.
The government has weakened the education system at different grade levels. The government decision to close the only recognized university in the country shows the detestation of the educated society. Currently, few colleges are running under military administration. The opportunity to study abroad is also thwarted by the government decision to obstinate the release of academic credentials without the consent of the government officials. s to migrate to countries with a better opportunity to exercise their knowledge with freedom.
The desire and willingness to go for national service have long been evaporated. The endless national service causes unsettlement in families and as a result, the youth started to desert. The government deployed heavy military throughout the country to round-up people from streets, homes, churches, schools, etc. The basic freedom is repressed and the use of torture, disappearances, and arbitrary detention have become common. Since 2001, the human right reports in Eritrea show a significant deterioration in civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights. The youth lost hope and start fleeing the country in record numbers. Currently, Eritreans constitute the second largest group of refugees in Europe and form a significant proportion of those still coming to Europe. The U.N estimates that around 9% of the population have fled in recent years, not counting those who died or were stranded en route. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says around 2,000 escape illegally every month via Sudan or Ethiopia. This makes Eritrea one of the word’s fastest-emptying nations. People caught trying to escape national service, including by fleeing the country, are detained in appalling conditions. Most of the time, detainees are kept in underground cells or in shipping containers. The same fate would likely befall those forcibly returned from overseas upon the rejection of their asylum applications in Europe or elsewhere, and there is a generalized risk of arbitrary detention and torture and other ill-treatment for any returned asylum-seekers. (Amnesty International, www.amensty.org, 12-01-2015)
The current situation in Eritrea shows an unlikely change in migration in the coming future. As stated above, Eritrean migration is mainly driven by indefinite national service; the suppression of political, economic and social rights; and absence of private economic opportunities. Most of the migrants leaving Eritrea are under the age of 40, and the majority of those are men. Over the years, Eritrea had lost its main engine in creating and sustaining economic development. At a moment, ministries have a significant shortage of skilled manpower while schools hardly have teachers. The education system, economic sectors, living standards have significantly deteriorated over the past 15 years. Now, Eritrea as a nation is at a point where it can’t go any worse. The endless conscription causes a fragile economy as more than 80% of Eritrean people engages in subsistence agriculture. The percentage of the labor force tied up in national service continue to interfere with agricultural production and economic development. Eritrea’s harvests generally cannot meet the food needs of the country without supplemental grain purchases.
In addition to economic impact, the demanding and difficult routes of migration to Western countries have led many to mental health problems. The past two or three Eritrean generation were exposed to the hardship of war, brutal dictatorial leadership, and grueling life of migration. The hardship has caused nightmares, flashbacks, sadness, anxiety, anger, guilt, fatigue, pessimism, and sexual problems among many people. Those are prominent symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acculturation, and post-migration living difficulties. Many Eritrean immigrants who lived in poverty prior to their migration have endured years of chronic stress and have been exposed to war and political violence. Arduous journeys with exposure to extreme physical and mental hardships as well as violence cause trauma among many Eritreans. Thousand fell under the hand of smugglers and organ traffickers. They are tortured for ransom and subjected to organ harvest in Sinai desserts. Much more have lost their lives crossing grueling SahraMany of the migrants are very young and vulnerable to trauma and PTSD. Upon entering to western countries, they are exposed to discrimination and restrictive policies which increase risk of mental health problems.
As asylum seekers, their post-traumatic problems are not usually addressed for many reasons. One main problem is the cultural upbringing that considers a mental health problem as a taboo. Additional reason includes barriers such as language, shortage of trained health personnel, scarcity of financial resources. The long-term effect of mental health problems will have a negative impact on individuals and the Eritrean society in general. There is a timely need of a well-coordinated international effort to improve the well-being of this vulnerable populations. Alongside international effort, it is also a moral obligation of Eritreans to help recently migrated fellow citizens. Combating the horrors of forced migration is both a public health and moral imperative. The international medical and non-medical communities should also cooperate in identifying, documenting and treating those vulnerable immigrants. In a long-term effort, the fundamental solution lies in eradicating the main cause of the trauma; which are current political turmoil and poverty in Eritrea. Eritreans should understand the long-term effect of migration and work to save their people and hence their country.