Eritrea: The Politicization of Migration


Amanuel Biedemariam

Every Eritrean, regardless of where they are, can relate to the plight of refugees because we went through it or know someone who is. And naturally, we all have a stake as well as opinions. However, before we further discuss, we all need to ask what kind of Eritrea we want to see? On the flip side, ask yourself what you wouldn’t like to see? We need to answer these questions first to have a meaningful dialogue on the subject.

The youth are the backbone, the primary protector, workforce, economic engine, and foundation of every society! Youth play a vital role in the future of any country! However, it is a survival issue for a young country like Eritrea. That is what is at stake when we talk about the migration of Eritrean youth. If one kid leaves Eritrea, it is one kid too many!

History always gives a glimpse of what was and future tendencies of what is likely to happen. After Haile Sellassie forcibly annexed Eritrea in 1961, one of his primary goals was integrating Eritrea into Ethiopia by systematically dissolving the Eritrean population.

Haile Selassie planned to marry Eritrea into Ethiopia, spread the Eritrean gene throughout Ethiopia, and bring more people from Ethiopia into Eritrea and do the same to dilute Eritrean identity. In effect, swallow Eritrea whole. Any resistance met Ethiopian forces, forcing people to flee to Sudan and other countries.

Mengistu Hailemariam came when Eritrean youth joined the liberation struggle in large numbers. Those who didn’t join fled to  Sudan.

The flight of young Eritreans took place at that time. Sudan was inundated with Eritrean refugees, welcomed them with kind hospitality, and cemented a lasting affection for the people of Sudan.

As a result, Eritrea lost a considerable chunk of its productive population to Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Germany, Sweden, North America, and other countries. Ethiopian authorities like the youth flight because Eritrea lost many potential recruits for the armed struggle.

The focus here is not the history of migration but to show a historical trend to see Eritrean youth dispersed worldwide. The idea behind the pressure to push Eritrean youth abroad was to soften resistance, weaken the country, and control it. That strategy failed because Eritrean independence was assured thanks to the sacrifice of our heroes despite the flight!

After Eritrean independence, there was a brief reversal of the trend. Many returned to Eritrea from Sudan and other places to reestablish their life in Eritrea. Taking advantage of the new friendly relations, some even invested in Ethiopia. Because the temporary good neighborly relation between Eritrea and Ethiopia relaxed many into believing the worst was over until the conflict erupted in 1998. Within two years, Meles Zenawi expelled 80,000 Eritreans out of Ethiopia. His actions were contrary to policies held by his predecessors.

Soon after that, however, the man who bragged, “we will expel anyone if we don’t like the color of their eyes,” realized he is Ethiopian after all and re-started the policies of Haile Sellassie and Mengistu Hailemariam.

Meles Zenawi committed heinous crimes against the people of Eritrea. Under Meles, Eritreans faced arbitrary arrest, solitary confinement in Blatien prison without due process, forced deportation of sick elders in the middle of the Afar desert, etc. Meles Zenawi’s record and credibility with Eritreans is worse than Mengistu Hailemariam and unforgivable no matter what he says or does.

Because Meles Zenawi knew his appeal to Eritreans wouldn’t work, he went on a PR charm-offensive to enlist those disgruntled Eritreans who claim to be fighting against the Government of Eritrea. Religious zealots, Islamic extremists, treasonous lost souls, and others who want to see the demise of the People’s Fron For Justice and Democracy (PFDJ).

Meles invited these groups to Addis Ababa and met them in the Presidential palace. They were all pleased to meet him and interviewed him one after another. After that, these individuals felt empowered and showed off pictures they took in the palace as a trophy. For example, Salih Gadi/Johar, an alleged pedophile/rapist, interviewed PM Meles Zenawi to reach out to the supporters of

This was by design because he intended to assure the reluctant that his offices would provide the highest level of support. The interview addressed specific points that Eritreans are concerned with, like the deportation of 80000 Eritreans. Their fear of Eritrea could turn into Somalia if Ethiopia attacked Eritrea again. The issue of port Assab and about the properties the TPLF stole from the deported  Eritreans, among other things.

Meles campaigned to assure and attract Eritreans. He especially wanted to attract Eritrean youth. He tried to pull Eritrean youth out of Eritrea by any means necessary to deny Eritrea her defense capability and a productive workforce. Hence, Meles incentivized those who wanted to do business in Ethiopia and those who lost properties Meles himself took, and he paid many so they could promote his agenda. Here is an excerpt,

“I can’t tell you this was our finest hour–far from it. It was a very regrettable process. All I can say is that people ought to understand what happened. As the invasion came as a shock, not only to the Ethiopian people as a whole but also to the EPRDF. And many in the EPRDF were surprised at the betrayal. And there was an element that was about lashing out and lashing back. At that stage, the Eritrean government was saying that they have a big presence [in Ethiopia] and if they wanted to remove the government from Addis, they could do it, any time. And the Eritrean community organizations here, in Ethiopia, were practically declared by the Eritrean government as an element of a fifth column that they have in Ethiopia”

There is no admission of guilt or ownership of responsibility; instead, he blames Eritrea for betrayal and explained his motives:

” Now when you combine that perceived threat with the anger amongst many in the government, it was easy for these angry people to argue that we have a security problem and the primary responsibility of the security of our citizens; therefore, we have to decrease the security threat. This was a circumstance that brought the situation- an environment of risk and environment of anger and an environment of hatred.”

Were the mothers, the elders, the sick, and the kids he deported a “threat?”  Many of those who went through the agony of deportation would like to see Meles Zenawi in jail for his crimes and human rights abuses.

However, the very few who wanted to go back to Ethiopia to work with the TPLF and had concerns of a backlash from the Eritrean community needed a reason, excuses, or justification to go back to Ethiopia. To them, Meles said,

“Now, it is easy for someone who was not on a receiving end, to theoretically argue that was wrong. It was a very unfortunate and let’s move on. Those who have been on the receiving side of it feel the pain and we have to understand that. All I can say to them is, please try to understand the circumstance. I am not going to justify it by any means, I am going to explain the circumstance.” 

Meles Zenawi’s message is, I am a good guy. What happened is past; let’s move on and work to fry the big fish, the government of Eritrea. He gave them the highest assurance, the tools they needed, and reasoning to help them overcome judgments and questioning. Of course, his biggest target was the Eritrean youth: the fighting power and critical human resource Eritrea needed to rebuild the Eritrean economy.

Eritrean youths are the gem and the future of Eritrea, without a doubt. They are skilled, well trained, disciplined, and politically astute by any measure. However, Eritrean youth are far more precious to the enemies of Eritrea, and their departure will hurt Eritrea long term. That is at the heart of the campaign.

According to the failed state index and Eritrea’s age and Africa, to the surprise of many, Eritrea is faring well.

The exodus we witness around the world today is not unique to any country or region. Global economic hardship and conflicts are significant drivers of migration.

Mass movement is a significant issue around the world. It is becoming a threat to stability for many nations, particularly to Africa.

Countries located in the transitional points, such as Morocco, suffer from the backlash because people of the host nations feel that it affects the quality of life. After all, it exasperates homelessness, unemployment, health care, and poverty.

In South Africa, it is a reason for a significant clash between migrants and citizens. Houses and businesses were destroyed, countless assaults even death. For similar reasons, the EU just passed a law to allow countries to jail illegal immigrants for 18months and send them back. We see immigration issues at the forefront of the US election.

Migration is a global problem. So, what makes Eritrean migration unique? Why is Eritrean migration getting a lot more attention than others? Why is Eritrean youth commanding more attention than Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Sweden, and other nationalities?  The Middle East provides over half of the world’s refugee population.

The reason is that they want to demonize Eritrea, destabilize it, and justify their action!

The demonizing process is multi-pronged. First, the media shows hardships in Eritrea. For example, they show people in queues for food. They report religious rights abuses. It is to make a case that Eritrea is a repressive country. The North Korea of Africa.

What kind of Eritrea would you like to see?

Without a doubt, Eritreans want to see a prosperous Eritrea free from threats. Eritreans know what the US, the EU, and Ethiopia are doing to get Eritreans out of their homes with false hopes of a better future in the West.

Hence, every Eritrean must know and understand it is imperative to keep the youth in Eritrea to safeguard and build the nation. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain unity in and outside the country.

To accomplish that, Eritreans need to understand our roles and play them correctly, which means we need to know our responsibilities and be true to them.

We all know the sensitivities related to the flight of our youth. Better yet, we know the families abroad have a significant role in their departure. To a large extent, Eritreans abroad are the reason and motivation for their exodus.

There are many reasons Eritreans leave their country and why their families abroad help them. It is emotional, safety, economy, and the desire to see them in a better place.

Hence, it is also easy to lose sight of tomorrow when feelings and emotions are involved. However, we must all understand that to see Eritrea as a viable nation; we must discourage the young from the temptations to leave their homes.

Youth: Guarantor of All-round Freedom!

It is hard to differentiate today’s youth from the youth of yesterday because they are the continuation of that legacy. It is hard to argue with the track record of freeing, defending, and building a nation. Here is one fact that we all need to understand clearly; every Eritrean kid is our kid; Eritrean sons and daughters belong to all of us; they are our blood flesh, brothers and sisters. That is a fact. No one can advocate for my family better than I can. Eritrea is a country that runs like a family because it is a family. Those who claim to care are crying crocodile tears while they try to tear into our flesh, alive.

Anyone can have reservations and grievances about many life and governance issues. However, that should never be a wedge between us. We should not use it as a political tool, and most importantly, give foreigners opportunities to harm Eritrea. Worse, do not help the criminal TPLF and Meles Zenawi’s agendas support. The development of Eritrean youth and their well-being is imperative to our nation’s existence.

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