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Migration From Eritrea: Man Made Or Following A Global Trend?

                Horn of African migrants escaping France to get to England.


By Abel Kebedom

In my previous article, titled Eritrea: The Way Forward, I emphasized that regardless of what happened in the past, as Eritreans, we all have the right and responsibility to equally discuss on the issues that are important to the revival of our country. Because in the new era of peace, Eritrea needs all its children to come together and prepare the roadmap for its future growth and prosperity. In my previous article, I purposely left Migration out from the discussion because I thought that was a big topic that merited a full article. Accordingly, now under the title of Migration from Eritrea: Man made or following a global trend? I focus on migration and related issues.

Short History of Migration from Eritrea.

For the last 50 years, migration from Eritrea has been uncontrollably increasing. The first Eritrean migrants to the Sudan were Eritrean lowlanders who faced scorching land and air attacks first by the Haileslassie regime and later from the Dergue military junta in Ethiopia in their effort to subdue Eritrean resistance and keep Eritrea under Ethiopia. The number of Eritrean migrants to Sudan again increased exponentially during the years of 1980-1981, when a full-fledged war broke out between ELF and EPLF and most of the ELF ex-combatants crossed to Sudan and resettled to western countries. After the liberation of Eritrea, in 1991, an effort was made by the UNCHR to bring those who fled from Eritrea to Eastern Sudan in the 1980’s back to Eritrea. Unfortunately, it was not fully successful. In fact, the few who returned to Eritrea through the UNCHR program had to flee again to Sudan because of the 1998-2000 border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

After the year of 2000, the migration of Eritreans to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Sudan became a norm than an exception. From the refugee camps many Eritreans continued their journey to Israel, Europe, Australia and some to the United States. Many more perished in the hand of greedy and cruel human traffickers and others were lost in the Sea. Consequently, the history of Eritrean migration has been a very sad story that emptied the country of its highly resourceful and hardworking youth labor. In this article I will focus only on the Eritrean migration that started in the year of 2000 and currently continuing unabated.

Eritrean Migration from the year 2000 up to now.

It is not a secret to Eritreans as to why their fellow country men and women have been leaving their country in droves. However, I am afraid that the Eritrean government’s explanation to such sad situation is not satisfactory enough to convince many of us. When asked as to why Eritreans were leaving their country in large numbers, Eritrean officials’ regular response to the Media was because it was a global trend. It is true that nowadays migration is a global trend. However, it is naivete not to think that the driving factors of that trend are war, hopelessness, mal-administrion, ethnic conflict and lack of economic opportunities to say the least. Therefore, I will dedicate my article to see if it was possible to slow the large volume of migration from Eritrea by reducing some of the aggravating factors and draw a lesson for future policy actions. As a result, I identified three factors that I believe are primary drivers of migration from Eritrea. These are: Management of national service program, Economic problems and hopelessness and Management of chain migration.

Management of the National Service Program.

For convenience, I divide the Management of the national service program in Eritrea into two subheadings: lack of demobilization of early recruits and national service program to public employees.

Lack of Demobilization of Early National Service Recruits.

It is true that the national service program in Eritrea has been key to defending the sovereignty and national integrity of the country. Moreover, the program significantly contributed to the revival of the economic sectors that were suffering from lack of qualified labor due to the war and later no war no peace situation. However, after the end of the border war, in the year of 2000, the national service program was not revised to fit to the then prevailing no war and no peace situation. Despite the decreased threat and many national service members were crossing to Sudan and Ethiopia, the government of Eritrea did not bother by it and failed to alleviate the consequence of the prolonged national service program on the society.

During that time many Eritreans who were worried by the larger number of Eritrean national service members leaving their country, suggested to the government to demolise the early recruits so that they can stay, within reach, in their country, and would be rightly available when called to defend the country. The concerned Eritreans argued that such action would send a message to the later recruits that there was a way out from the national service program. The government did not listen to the concerned Eritreans and as a result more than 30, 000 national service members crossed to Israel and close to 75, 000 ended up in Europe. Why the government chose to see them leave than keeping them in their country so that they would continue strengthening the defense of the country is still a mystery.

National service program to public employees.

Another issue that is often mentioned as driver of migration is poor implementation of the national service program to public employees in Eritrea. It is true that the country belongs to everyone and no one, who is capable to provide the service, should avoid it. However, the way the national service was implemented on public employees was not well thought. For instance, starting early 2000 the government put almost all teachers and public health service professional under the age of 50 on national service. Those people who had a family to feed, house rent to pay and most likely were supporting older parents and the families of their brother and sisters who already were recruited for the national service program, were left without any income and means to support themselves. The consequence was severe. By cutting some time from their teaching assignment, many of the teachers were forced to work as daily laborers and others who lost hope decided to cross the border. The negative ripple effect of such unthoughtful implementation of the national service program on public employees resulted in loss of student’s moral and ultimately the students followed their teachers and started to cross the border. It was the most destructive action that brought the Eritrean education and health system down.

Many believe that such action was taken to destroy the confidence of the teachers and health workers and make them obedient to the system. If that was the case, then it was regrettable action that did not take its negative impact on the nation’s society and economy into consideration.

Economic problems and Hopelessness.

Again, for convenience I divide the Economic problems and hopelessness title into two subsections. These are: skyrocketing house rent and home prices and mismanagement of the 2% diaspora tax.

Sky rocketing house rent and home prices.

History tells us that Eritreans are creative, hardworking and proud people who never expected a hand out from others. What Eritreans need are an opportunity. If they do not find it, then often would create an opportunity for themselves. Then when there is an administration that manages that available or newly created opportunity fairly, they would win and build a decent life. Unfortunately, in addition to the pressure of war, the maladministration that prevailed in the country for the past 27 years resulted in economic problems and hopelessness. One of the major problems in the country is the mismatch between household income and house rent. Due to the shutdown of the housing construction initiatives by the government, housing cost in Eritrea increased dramatically, and renters found an incentive to drive citizens out from rented homes to nowhere. Those who saw no solution to the problem decided to vote on their foot and crossed the border to refugee camps. The poor administration of housing construction in Eritrea was manifested when the government decided to destroy hundreds of houses that costed a significant amount of resources to build. At the time of war and economic problems, no one in his/her right mind, destroys homes and drives women and children to the street no matter what. The fact that one way or the other those already built houses help to alleviate the acute housing problem in the country, an alternative solution should have been found. Unfortunately, that did not happen and now all are in ruins.

Mismanagement of the 2% Diaspora Tax.

Whether we like or not, among Eritreans, those who have the economic means to build or buy houses in Eritrea are the Eritrean diaspora. This is done in many ways. Eritrean diaspora could buy houses for their families in Eritrea, can help families to build houses in Eritrea or often pay the 2% tax to receive a plot of land for building their house in Eritrea. However, the management of the latter is very disappointing and to say the least very abusive. It is important for the government to understand that housing construction in Eritrea cannot be successful without the participation of the diaspora Eritreans. In Eritrea there is no a scheme that helps renters to create an association that mobilizes resources to build homes. Moreover, not only the government does not build rental homes, but also it does not allow private contractors to do the job. Such situation makes the diaspora Eritreans indispensable party at least to minimize the problem. Diaspora Eritreans could build homes and let their families live in it. That helps the country economically and opens the rental houses to those who do not have the means to build homes.

The process for the diaspora to build homes in Eritrea is, pay the 2% income tax, receive their plot of land, present the plan and start building their home. Unfortunately, once they start building their homes, suddenly, the government passes a circular that stops everything. All the homes that were half built were often left not completed and ultimately get destroyed by rain. The materials that were bought to complete the house end up wasted. The question is why the government does that to its citizens who fulfilled the government requirement and paid the 2% diaspora tax.

Sadly, after the construction is stopped, as if there was a legal means to migrate from Eritrea, the diaspora Eritreans are asked if they left the country by crossing the border or through legal means. Back to revenge. The implication of that questions to the close 150, 000 Eritreans who crossed the border and ended up in foreign countries would be they are not eligible to have any economic participation in their country even if they pay the 2% tax and fill the regret form.

Some people believe housing is the major political tool for the Eritrean government. It is how the government generates supporters and money from diaspora Eritreans. Leaving incomplete house is a method to keep the Eritrean diaspora hostage and make them cash cow and loyal for life. Whatever the case is if there is no coherent and transparent housing policy in the country, then we need one as soon as possible. Because the current policy encourages migration and hurts the country socially and economically.


Whenever an Eritrean migrates to another country, it is evident that other family members will follow. For instance, if the first migrant is a married, spouse and children will follow. If not married, fiancés, parents, siblings and sometimes members of an extended family will follow. The problem is the Eritrean Immigration policy does not accommodate legal chain migration. For instance, when a national service member crosses the border and ends up in a foreign country, that person is not allowed to take his/her children and spouses out of Eritrea through legal channels, even if that person pays the 2% tax and fills the regret form. As a result, the government action creates a fertile ground for human trafficking, corruption and most likely loss of innocent children’s life. To cross the border and reunite with their family, many children were eaten by a hyena, killed by border guards and died of hunger and thirst. After the normalization with Ethiopia, people are crossing legally to Ethiopia and facing the challenges of large cities like Addis Ababa. To avoid all this sad situation, why not the government create a system to unite separated families. Why do Eritreans have to cross to Sudan, Ethiopia, and even Egypt, and end up in dangerous refugee camps, to get those services. Why is the government not capable enough to see the dangers spouses and children are facing to reunite with their family members? If this is possible in any country in the world, why is not possible in Eritrea?

Beside the loss of life, when an Eritrean end up in a refugee camp in Ethiopia or Sudan, does the government of Eritrea know how much foreign currency is Eritrea losing? Currently, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Ethiopia and Sudan combined benefit more from Eritrean diaspora remittances than Eritrea. Looking at the dire economic situation of the country and remittances being the major source of income to the country, such situation should have been resolved long time ago. Unfortunately, it did not.


Due to the difficult internal and external factors, migration has been a way of life to Eritreans. Now that the border problem is resolved, and Eritrean and Ethiopia have normalized, it is necessary to create an immigration policy that protects Eritreans from danger and makes the need for Eritreans to cross borders to neighboring countries unnecessary. Moreover, the Eritrean government need to remove or minimize the primary drivers of migration. One of these major factors is management of land and housing. The Eritrean government need to have a consistent policy that clearly outlines the procedures one must follow to build a house in Eritrea. Once that is done the government should emphasize on control. It needs to stop coming up with sudden polices that erase what has been officially out lined before. Over the last 27 years Eritreans went through hell. Right now, they need a government that works hard to compensate that loss and despair. Not a government that extends that sense of loss and despair as a major tool of governance.

Victory to the Masses.

Eternal Peace and Glory to our Martyrs

Previous articles by Abel kebedom.

1. Eritrea the way forward. By Abel kebedom. Madote.
2. The Mouthpiece of TPLF, Aiga Forum, Goes Berserk. By Abel Kebedom. Madote.
3. Can the Chalabis of Eritrea learn from the Chalabi of Iraq? By Abel kebedom. Madote.
4. Peter Pham, Long Time Susan Rice’s Confidant, wants to Set off the Trump
Administration on a Wrong Foot in Africa. By Abel kebedom. Madote.
5. Abay Tsehaye: The Current Chief Administrator of TPLF Colony Called Ethiopia. By Abel
kebedom. Madote.
6. U.S. Implicated in the Horrific Sniper killings of Innocent Women and Children in Ethiopia.
By Abel kebedom. Madote.
7. TPLF’s New “Agaiazian” Agenda is The Old and Worn-out “Tigrai-Tigrigna”. By Abel
Kebedom. Madote.
8. TPLF’s Crude Insult to Eritreans: Forget the EEBC Verdict, Just Sing a Song for Peace.
By Abel Kebedom. Modote.
9. TPLF: The Art of Re-branding Pilot as Senay Gebremedhin. By Abel Kebedom. Madote.
10. Eritrean opposition member accuses Meron Estifanos of committing treason: By Abel
Kebedom. Madote.
11. TPLF Must Learn from Its Mistakes and Start Working for the Future of Tigray: By Abel
Kebedom. Modote.
12. The Peace Between Ethiopia and Eritrea is Inclusive, is Tigrai Ready for it?: By Abel
Kebedom. Madote.
13. TPLF: Using Unsuspecting Refugees for Political and Military Agenda is a Crime. By
Abel Kebedom. Madote.
14. TPLF’s "Old Policy Number Two" in the Face of New Reality. By Abel kebedom.
15. TPLF's Effort to Antagonize the People of Tigray with other Peoples of Ethiopia and the
Horn of Africa is a Leadership Myopia. By Abel kebedom. Madote.
16. Eritrean Diaspora: Some Important Issues That Require Discussion. By Abel kebedom.

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