Migrants or Refugees? The internal and external drivers of migration from Eritrea
Eritrea has during the last decade become among the largest producers of refugees and asylum seekers in the world. The dominant narrative explaining this trend refers to the combination of a highly authoritarian and militarized state structure, an infinite and abusive national service program, and gross, widespread, and systematic human rights violations. This dominant narrative has however in recent years become increasingly challenged by those who argue that migration from Eritrea predominantly is driven by economic aspirations and that Eritreans really are fleeing a stagnant economy which deprives the citizens of a viable future.
This report, by Andreas Holm Røsberg and Kjetil Tronvoll, seeks to provide some clarity to this issue.
This report seeks to provide some clarity to the internal and external drivers of migration from Eritrea through: i) a thorough and critical assessment of research methodological challenges inherent in the Eritrean case; ii) a comprehensive and critical literature review of research and country of origin reports on Eritrea; and iii) compare and supplement the findings of the literature review with data obtained through interview survey conducted in four Eritrean refugee camps in Tigray, Ethiopia.
The report shows that flight from Eritrea is a function of a complex set of internal and external factors – a situation that is far too multifaceted to be adequately understood within the frames of two competing and simplified narratives.
There are enduring internal and external validity issues associated with much of the research on Eritrea, leaving much to be desired when it comes to the (certainty of) the accuracy of findings and our ability to generalize findings to the Eritrean population at large. The majority of the research on Eritrea, collaborated by this project survey, identifies the main internal drivers of migration as the national service programme, human rights abuse, expectations and aspirations of self-development, which accumulates into a sense of no hope for the future. These key internal drivers link up with the external pull factors of economic opportunities, fulfilment of citizenship rights and aspirations for modernity.
There is however uncertainty concerning how the identified drivers of migration, alone or through complex interaction, impact the individual’s choice to migrate, although it seems appropriate to assume that it varies considerably between individuals and most likely over time as well. There are also age and gender differences at play. It seems evident, however, that many Eritreans of all ages find the combined effects of some, or all, of these factors to outweigh the very real internal and external risks and uncertainties associated with fleeing their home country.