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[Audio] BBC's Mary Harper Interviews Eritreans in Asmara on National Service


Mary Harper: I'm in a market place which is basically an extraordinary combination of dried chilies, which are making my eyes burn, and old metal. And there's a man here making something out of an old metal tin.

What are you making sir?

Store worker: This is a coffee store.

Mary: Ah, he's making a coffee store. And it's amazing to think that has all been made from recycled material.

Are you doing your National Service now?

Store worker: Oh yea.

Mary: For how many years?

Store Worker: Nine years.

Mary: What is your job in National Service.

Store worker: Soldier

Mary: But you're not a soldier now.

This is a story I hear time and again in Eritrea. People forced into National Service years ago. But instead of fleeing the country, in search of freedom and wealth, they stay home, supplementing their meager stipends by doing other work.

The allegations of slave labor have put off many international investors. The few foriegn firms
in Eritrea, such as mining and textile companies, say they are careful not to hire conscripts.

Petros Ghirmay: According to the law of Eritrea, those who have completed their National Service are working here.

Mary: Petros Ghirmay works for the Italian-run Dolce Vita garment factory which makes designer shirts for Giorgio Armani and Pierre Cardin.

So there are no National Service workers in this factory?

Petros: No, not at all.

Mary: What is the proof that they are not National Service workers?

Petros: They can show their papers (release papers).

Mary: But when I go onto the factory floor, I meet an 18 year old who is perfectly open about his status.

What is it this piece of the shirt that you're cutting in pink, black, blue colors?

Dolce worker: It's the yolk part of the shirt.

Mary: Ah so you're cutting the yolk, the back bit of the shirt.

You say you're 18 years old. Have you finished your studies?

Dolce worker: Yes.

Mary: Why are you not in University or National Service when you're so young.

Dolce worker: National Service.

Mary: You're still doing National Service?

Docle worker: In my partial time, I'm working there (NS).

Mary: So this is an extra job. So what is your National Service job?

Docle worker: (translator says he keeps record of his regiment.)

Mary: Ah you keep the records of your regiment.

But you also work here in your spare time and that's fine, not a problem?

Docle Worker: No.

Mary: But do you ever feel worried you'll be in National Service for 10 years, 15 years and that will be your life?

Docle worker: Yes.

Mary: In another part of the factory, I meet young women cutting patterns. They tell me they were released from National Service when they had babies. But they have another compliant: Pay.

The first women I speak to earns the equivalent of 120 dollars a month.

Young mother 1: It's not enough.

Mary: I understand. So with the baby and with you, it's not enough for you.

There's another young lady sitting next to her. Do you mind me asking what your salary is, how much you earn a month?

Young mother 2: 2,000 Nakfas.

Mary: So 150, 160 dollars a month. Is that enough for you?

Young mother 2: It's not enough, but (laughs)

Mary: Why isn't it enough for you?

Young mother 2: Because of the economy.

Mary: The price of things is high

Young mother 2: Yes, that's why.

Mary: Back in the metal market I begin to feel this is what Eritrea is all about. Although foreign investment is on the up, most people have to make due with what have in front of them, be it a dry dusty field or a pile of old metal. And they do this while locked in National Service, which could stretch for years.

Hello sir, Salem. What are you making?

Metal worker: This is a cover. Upper cover.

Mary: Yes, I see a cover and also big plates for injera, which is the flat bread that they all eat here. And all from old oil drums.

Are you in National Service now or finished?

Metal worker: Yeah, I'm in.

Mary: How many years have you been in National Service for?

Metal worker: Seven years.

Mary: And do you think it will end soon?

Metal worker:  It has not ended (laughs)

Mary: Do you want it to end?

Metal worker:  Yeah!

Mary:  Many people, young people, they go to Europe. Do you want to go to Europe?

Metal worker: I don't like to. Because I love my country!

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[Audio] BBC's Mary Harper Interviews Eritreans in Asmara on National Service Reviewed by Admin on 9:12 AM Rating: 5

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