Interview: The Mass Exodus from Eritrea

Teachers and Students Flee Forced Conscription

The border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000 led to a “no war, no peace” stalemate after Ethiopia refused to accept an international boundary demarcation ruling. Since then, Eritrea took an isolationist approach in its foreign relations and instituted indefinite compulsory conscription. This means that the government forces a significant section of its population to serve in the military or civil service for their entire working lives. The education sector has been hit particularly hard by this policy. Instead of investing in training and recruiting teachers who voluntarily choose to teach, the government has filled its schools with national service conscripts, who are paid little and often have little interest in or qualifications for the assigned post. Teachers who try to leave their posts risk reprisals, including imprisonment in dire conditions and even physical abuse. Senior Researcher Laetitia Bader speaks to Audrey Wabwire about Eritrea’s conscription program and the huge risks teachers and students take to escape from it.

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