Key mixed migration characteristics
In terms of mixed migration Eritrea is predominantly a country of origin. Its role in the region as a transit or destination country is negligible. However, Eritrea does host a small population of refugees, the majority being Somalis. Mixed migration cases predominantly include forced and economic migrants who leave the country in significant numbers going south into Ethiopia or west into Sudan as their first country of flight. Because they can register as refugees, many Eritreans caught in mixed migration become asylum-seekers once they have left their country, even if they frequently use the refugee camps as springboards for secondary, onward movement.
The US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report 2011 lists Eritrea as a source country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and to a lesser extent sex trafficking, nationally and transnationally.
Most recent statistics
Refugees and people in refugee like situations inside Eritrea has remained relatively unchanged in recent years, except for a small decrease of some 2% between 2007 to 2011. By contrast UNHCR report an 11.5% increase in the number of Eritrean refugees outside the country in the same period. However, the most striking exodus of Eritreans are those found in the flow of mixed migrants entering Sudan and northern Ethiopia. Most seek to register as forced migrants (asylum seekers and refugees) because they are assured of a positive reception at refugee camps in both countries. To give a sense of scale to the issue, almost a quarter million Eritreans are registered as refugees or in refugee like situations globally. Camps in eastern Sudan near Kassala hold approximately 80,000 Eritreans while a further 52,000 Eritreans are in UNHCR camps in Ethiopia. In 2010 and 2011 an estimated 2-3000 Eritreans were reportedly leaving Eritrean territory each month. Reportedly, the regime treats those who leave the country harshly, if caught.
Refugees and Asylum-seekers in Eritrea
The majority of refugees in Eritrea are hosted in camps, the biggest being Emkulu, located near the port of Massawa. The current number of asylum seekers being approximately 137 as of January 2011 according to UNHCR. The Government of Eritrea does not accept asylum claims from Ethiopian asylum-seekers but UNHCR has recognized some 70-80 Ethiopians as mandate refugees.
UNHCR statistics as of January 2011;
Total refugee population hosted in Eritrea = 5,612 of which ;
Total Asylum Seekers in Eritrea = 137
Total Eritrean refugee population worldwide = 236,059
Total Eritrean asylum seekers worldwide = 13,599
Main drivers and motivation for migration
Most Eritreans flee to evade compulsory national service; reportedly an oppressive and unlimited service. They leave the country illegally, without obtaining the required exit permit/visa which may make them more susceptible to end up in a situation of trafficking. The unlimited national service also leads to internal trafficking in the form of forced labour as the conscripts are made to work on construction sites, as farm labour for the benefit of the higher ranking army and government officials, receiving no extra compensation save their national service allowance.
Conditions in Eritrea are reportedly harsh; it is a closed society and a highly securitized state by an authoritarian government. The total country population according to UNDP statistics was 5, 415,300 in 2011. As one of the poorest countries in the world, endemic poverty and lack of livelihood, apart from the lack of political freedom, are also main drivers for mixed migration. The poverty level index (UNDP 2012) is assessed to as having Human Development Indicators value 0.349; ranking Eritrea as 177 out of 187 countries (UNDP; 2012 Report Human Development Statistical Tables)
As a country of mixed migration origin
Eritrea today is predominantly a source of migrants who flee from national service and seeking better livelihood opportunities, as compared to the 1990s when they fled in large numbers due to the war of independence.
As a country of mixed migration destination
Apart from the registered refugees in Eritrea (approximately 5,600 at the end of April 2012) there is no indication that mixed migration target Eritrea as a country of destination.
As a country of mixed migration transit
There is no evidence that Eritrea is used by mixed migration flows as a transit country. Given its geographical location, the political regime pertaining and the options of other countries in the region this is not surprising and is unlikely to change.
Characteristics of migration (means and modes)
Most Eritreans cross the border with Sudan or Ethiopia by foot and in a clandestine manner as punishment for ‘illegal’ departure from Eritrea is severe. Despite the country’s proximity to Yemen and Saudi Arabia the coastline is well guarded by the authorities preventing significant movement across the Red Sea. Nevertheless, given the desperation of some Eritreans to leave their country it may be assumed that some fishing boats or other small private craft manage to cross. There are no monitoring systems in Saudi Arabia or northern Yemen to track this movement at present.
Eritreans either use Sudan as a country of destination or move on to Libya through the ‘western route’ while some choose to go south often transiting in Kenya or using it as a port of destination. There have been reports of some migrating to Yemen and onwards.
Risks and vulnerabilities of mixed migration in Eritrea
The significant outflow of Eritreans into Ethiopia and Sudan - estimated at some 2-3,000 a month according to UNHCR - continues to present challenges. In 2011, the Sudanese forcefully deported a number of Eritreans who had not yet been given the chance to apply for asylum and who were found transiting Sudan without documentation. More recently in 2012, Jordan threatened to deport some 9 Eritreans to Yemen who had been recognised as refugees by UNHCR in the past. There have been reports in the early months of 2012 of criminal gangs from the Bedouin tribes in eastern Sudan who kidnapped Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees for ransom. During captivity these individuals were subjected to torture and other forms of cruel and degrading treatment. Other reports indicate that this is also happening in Egypt's Sinai peninsula to Eritrean migrants who were trying to make their way to the Israeli border. Reports of organ theft have surrounded the later incidents. In recognizing the ‘persecution’ rather than ‘prosecution’ upon return having fled with no exit permit and evading draft, UNHCR has tended to adopt a policy of no returns for such individuals since 2008/9 encouraging governments to do the same. There have also been several reported cases of kidnappings and extortion of Eritreans in eastern Sudan.
National immigration laws and policies
Laws against trafficking in women and young persons for sexual exploitation and laws prohibiting slavery are to be found in the Eritrean Transitional Criminal Code whilst laws prohibiting forced labour are contained in the national Constitution. However the latter has been suspended and there have been no known cases where either have been used to prosecute those involved in human trafficking. Although there is legislation prohibiting the recruitment of those under the age of 18 years into the armed forced, there are allegations that the government does so through its compulsory national military service which for some continue indefinite. There are reports which indicate that these conscripts are ‘forced’ to engage in infrastructure construction and farm labour for senior army official and private investors. Many who flee from the country are of conscription age and so without the requisite exit visas – risking the severe penalties that all but amount to persecution rather than prosecution if apprehended.
According to the 2011 U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons report, the government has provided no information on any efforts that it has taken to combat trafficking and the fact that it limits NGOs and other International organizations from operating within its territory limits any protection that is afforded to victims of such crimes. Eritrea is not a party to the 2000 UN Protocol in Trafficking in Persons.
International legislation to which Eritrea is a State Party
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- International Covenant on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
- Convention on the Rights of Children
- International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea
Other sites offering comprehensive country profile information other than mixed migration
- Central Intelligence Agency(USA) World Factbook
- United Nations Data Country Profile
- UNHCR Eritrea Factsheet
- U.S. Department of State Report Eritrea– 2010
- Human Rights Watch Country Report Eritrea 2009