Tucked in the corner of Northeast Africa, Eritrea is surrounded by Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and the dense ecosystem of the Red Sea. I can’t tell you about the smells and sounds the streets present, about the way people greet one another, or what life is like for the people who live there. I may never be able to, because I have never been there and I don’t speak any of the 9 languages (other than English). Therefore, the information below is one-sided, from Eritreans seeking refuge, from those who have extensively studied their politics, and the people that live and have lived in Eritrea.

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The Eritrean War of Independence was fought against Ethiopia from 1961-1991. While Eritrea was fighting for Independence, Ethiopia began a civil war in 1974 that lasted until 1991. War erupted again over border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1998. Two years later, and after 80,000 deaths, a peace agreement was drafted but wasn’t fully agreed upon until 2018. (wikipedia)

According to the Reporters Without Borders in 2019, Eritrea is the third most censored country in the world just behind North Korea and Turkmenistan. Of the 4.5 million people 1% percent have access to the internet while 6% of the population have access to phones. Towards the end of 2016 The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found approximately 459,400 Eritrean refugees in countries such as Ethiopia and Sudan. Many making the journey over the Sahara and Mediterranean Sea to arrive in Europe. A trip that nearly 2,500 known people drown attempting every year. 

Concerns from Human Rights Watch state a number of abuses and a lack of basic human rights. The United Nations’ Human Rights Council finds that rights to practice religious freedom, through weddings and meetings, are interrupted by mass arrests and the taking away of ID cards. Not only are religions closely watched, but the LGBTQI communities are criminalized. According to The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, women and children trying to leave the country are highly subject to human trafficking and smuggling. In some cases, they have found senior military officers are involved in the trafficking. The same committee states concerns about the practice of female genital mutilation, mainly in rural areas. Besides the abuses to the people of Eritrea, concerns for scarcity in food production and malnutrition lead to high infant mortality rates. 

Throughout my research, photos of bright yellow and red food caught my eye, as well as the coral of the Red Sea. Although the atrocities from many sources paint a dark picture of what Eritreans have gone through, I can still see a glimpse into the positivity of Eritrean culture. The pictures paint a picture of those who are with us here in the US, and around the world. They’re people who want something similar to what I want, basic human rights, and they’re willing to do anything for them. That tells me a lot.

Kenzie Bowcutt