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Report: Eritrea Faces Youth Drain

In this photo released by the Italian Navy on Monday and taken on Sunday, June 29, 2014, a boat overcrowded with migrants is pictured in the Mediterranean Sea. The bodies of some 30 would-be migrants were found in in the hold of a packed smugglers' boat m

A new report said a lot of young people are leaving Eritrea due to authoritarian rule, growing dissatisfaction and long-term national service. The International Crisis Group has called for both domestic and international action to reduce the youth drain.

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Many young Africans are leaving the continent hoping to find jobs and opportunities elsewhere. But the International Crisis Group said the youth exodus from Eritrea is acute.

It said the Eritrean government’s demand to “sacrifice individual ambition for the greater good of the nation” is causing people to leave.

Dr. Cedric Barnes, ICG’s Horn of Africa Project Director, said, “The primary driver at the moment seems to be because people are fed-up with the national service, where people are required to either join the army or work for the government in various capacities for very little money and with no prospect of being released. We are seeing people voting with their feet, as it were, to avoid these demands.”

Many risk their lives doing so.

“Well, that’s clear that that’s happening at various stages of the journey – even at the end stages in terms of the overloaded boats that seem to be arriving on the southern shores of Europe, especially Malta and Italy, where boats are overloaded. And these vessels are sinking, often drowning many of their occupants,” he said.

But their lives are in danger even before they get on the boats. They have to travel through lawless and dangerous parts of Sudan and Libya, for example. Barnes said for a time Eritrean forces prevented border crossings by lethal force if necessary.

Initially the government tried to crackdown on the migration. Then, Barnes says, it saw an economic opportunity through remittances and a two-percent tax imposed on the migrants. But Barnes said that’s not forestalling long-term issues.

“They’re losing their working population. They are losing the relatively scarce human capital that Eritrea has. This is affecting from the army to the national services, as well as families, especially the farms and other productive activities that need man and woman power.”

The International Crisis Group recommended that Eritrea re-set its relationship with the outside world by becoming more engaged diplomatically. It also recommends that Eritrea gradually demobilize its national service – and ease border tensions with Ethiopia.

Barnes said, “The kind of isolationist position that Eritrea has found itself in is preventing a society where people’s individual social / economic freedoms can be pursued – which is encouraging people to leave and look for better alternatives.”

The ICG also said that Eritrea should seek assistance from the European Union and the U.N. to help restructure the country’s economy to create more jobs for young people.