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Human Trafficking in Eritrea
Eritrea is an isolated, one-party state where children must frequently leave school for mandatory military training along with a large percentage of farmers and agricultural workers. This leaves food, water, education and shelter from violence almost inaccessible. For these reasons, many Eritrean citizens seek shelter in neighboring countries or refugee shelters where human trafficking is the most rampant. Human trafficking in Eritrea is very common due to over 30 years of violence between neighboring countries leaving it extremely militarized and vulnerable.

Human trafficking is a serious crime and a violation of human rights that occurs in almost every country in the world. The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation and harboring of people for the purpose of forced labor, prostitution, slavery or any other means of exploitation. Trafficking runs rampant in underdeveloped nations, highly militarized and war-torn states and countries without sufficient protection systems in place.

Current State of Human Trafficking in Eritrea

Eritrea is classified as a source country. This means that the majority of human trafficking in Eritrea happens within the country’s borders, mainly for forced domestic labor with sex and labor trafficking happening abroad to a lesser extent.

Most trafficking occurs inside Eritrea’s borders because citizens face “strict exit control procedures and limited access to passports and visas,” trapping them in the country or forcing citizens to flee to refugee camps where they have a high chance of getting kidnapped and returned. Kidnappers commonly try to coerce victims with a promise of reuniting families, food or shelter.

Sinai Desert Trafficking

Between 2006 and 2013, non-domestic human trafficking in Eritrea increased exponentially. Smugglers of neighboring countries were kidnapping Eritreans from refugee camps in order to hold them in the Sinai Desert for ransom. Victims often experienced extreme violence like torture, organ harvesting and rape. Of the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 victims of Sinai trafficking, estimates have determined that about 90% are Eritrean.

Current Protection in Place

According to the U.S. Department of State, the Eritrean government has not reported significant efforts to identify and protect human trafficking victims in the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report: Eritrea.

The government has not reported any systems in place to protect victims and the Eritrean court used to only require perpetrators of human trafficking to pay restitution and/or fines, but now it offers jail time along with a fine of $1,330-$3,330. The government has not identified or persecuted any government officials of human trafficking but did arrest 44 military officials for conspiracy to commit trafficking crimes in 2015.

Prevention and Progress

The U.S. Department of State ranks Eritrea as a Tier 3 country in human trafficking matters meaning that it does not meet the minimum anti-trafficking standards and is not making an effort to do so. The government did not report any protection systems in place for trafficking victims, it does not provide services directly to victims and it does not show significant effort to create legislation to punish traffickers.

Even though the Eritrean government continues to subject its citizens to forced national service, in 2019, it increased international cooperation on human trafficking and similar matters. Officials were active in an international anti-trafficking workshop that created a regional and national level action plan to combat trafficking.

In the past decade, Europe has offered to reinstate aid to Eritrea to help stimulate the economy and reduce the number of people attempting to leave the country. Europe is a destination point for many migrants who stop through Sudan and Libya on the way, but many do not make it through due to the difficult journey.

More recently, the Eritrean government has been educating its citizens on the dangers of irregular migration and trafficking through events, posters, campaigns and conventions to hopefully prevent men, women and children from entering high-risk trafficking zones. This is one of the best things the government can do for its citizens as it better informs them of their surroundings on a day to day basis.

The U.S. Department of State has also recommended the continuation of anti-trafficking training to all levels of government, as well as the enforcement of limits on the length of mandatory national service for citizens and the enactment and enforcement of anti-trafficking laws that criminalize the act and prosecutes the perpetrators of human trafficking in Eritrea.

One of the most important ways to slow or stop human trafficking would be to end mandatory national service or impose strict time limits on such service. Many Eritreans attempt to flee or experience trafficking by military officials because they are in service for an indefinite amount of time with no way out. Once Eritrea begins to persecute any and all human traffickers and can break free from an authoritarian one-party political system, it can begin to be a safe country for its citizens.

 – Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

Facts about Human Rights in Eritrea

Eritrea is known by some as the “North Korea of Africa.” In 1993, after a 30-year long war of independence, Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia. In the U.S. Department of State’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, Eritrea received a tier-three rating, signifying that the Eritrean government has not engaged in any significant efforts to eliminate human trafficking in the country. Keep reading to learn the top nine facts about human rights in Eritrea.

9 Facts about Human Rights in Eritrea

  1. The Eritrean government is one of the last remaining dictatorships in the world. Since the country’s independence from Ethiopia in 1993, President Isaias Afewerki has served as the country’s leader. Forced labor, repression of free speech and restriction on the freedom of religion are common under the current regime.
  2. Human trafficking in Eritrea has its roots in the national service program. The program requires men ages 18 to 54 and women ages 18 to 47 to serve 18-months in the military and non-military service. However, there are records of people serving more than 10 years because they were threatened with detention, torture or harm to their families.
  3. Many Eritreans have fled their country to find better living conditions. In 2013, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people were fleeing Eritrea every month to escape the country’s human rights abuses. Overall, the U.N. refugee agency has expressed concern that more than 300,000 Eritreans have fled over the past decade.
  4. Security forces in Eritrea torture and beat civilians or suspected criminals. Among the people tortured and beaten are army deserters, draft evaders, people living near mining camps and people attempting to flee the country. For Eritreans who are trying to flee the country, the Eritrean government issued a shoot-to-kill policy.
  5. Children and young people are vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking in Eritrea. All 12th-grade students are required to complete their final year of secondary education at the Sawa military and training academy. If the students refuse, they do not receive high school diplomas and are unable to attend universities or attain employment. Although the Eritrean law bans conscription of minors (younger than 18) into military service, many students sent to the academy are not of age.
  6. Many Eritrean refugees are facing repatriation. Repatriated refugees often face arrest and indefinite detention, which involves inhumane conditions and treatments. Eritrea’s inhumane treatment of its citizens is extensive, evidenced through Osman Ahmed Nur’s suicide in 2018. Ahmed Nur, who escaped to the U.K. after suffering torture, committed suicide in fear of repatriation after getting stopped and searched by the police.
  7. Many international organizations are coming together to give aid to Eritrea. In 2009, the EU, the U.S. and the African Union worked together to provide development aid for Eritrea. The EU provided 122 million euros in assistance to Eritrea despite “concerns that development projects in Eritrea are carried out by conscript or prison labor in violation of international law.”
  8. The Ethiopian soldiers and government give favorable support to the Eritrean refugees. This may surprise an outsider observer, given the history of conflicts between Eritrea and Ethiopia. In interviews conducted in 2017, Eritrean refugees stated they did not experience hostility from Ethiopian soldiers. While there are concerns about the living conditions in the refugee camps in Ethiopia, the U.N. Refugee Agency’s statistics highlight the refugees’ access to electricity and reuniting of over 1,600 children with their families in Ethiopia.
  9. Assistance is also provided to Eritreans living outside of the refugee camps. They receive help to formally register births, marriages and deaths which helps increase access to financial services such as bank accounts. Statistics show that 623 Eritreans living in urban centers benefit from the OCP. There are also 13,000 Eritrean refugees who benefit elsewhere in the country.

Above all, the Eritrean government’s treatment of its citizens paints a bleak picture. Repression of free speech, limiting the freedom of religion, the lack of due process and accounts of torture make up the grim narratives told by the Eritrean refugees. However, Eritrea’s recent peace agreement with Ethiopia is more hopeful. These nine facts about human rights in Eritrea tell us that, with the help of the international community and humanitarian assistance given by the Ethiopian government, a better future awaits the people of Eritrea.

– YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr