Irregular Youth Migration from Post-Independence Eritrea to Sudan (1993-2013): Causes, Implications and Trends

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Andom, Netsereab Ghebremichael
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University of Khartoum
Ever since the eruption of the second Ethio-Eritrean border conflict, the level of irregular cross-/trans-national out-migration of Eritreans to the neighboring and far off countries has drastically risen and continues to do so. This study aims to examine the “root” causes and contributory factors to the irregular youth out-migration from Eritrea to Sudan. It also evaluates the implications of such unregulated migratory movements to the migrants and diagnoses the future intentions of the Eritrean migrants transiting through and/or living in Sudan. This dissertation met the aforementioned triple aim by using “blended data collection approach” and cross-national and multi-cited field work carried out both in Eritrea and Susan. The utilization of multi-method approach that captures the complexity of such migratory movements and its implications is informed by the insights of Network Episode Model (NEM) that argues that sociology must explicitly measure contextual factors and the connecting mechanisms of influence. To document the consequences of such irregular border-crossing(s) at the migrants’ level, the study relies on political economic approach and autobiographical voices of the migrants. The main tenets of this study is that the core centrifugal force that induce and perpetuates irregular border-crossing(s) of Eritrean youths to Sudan and further onwards over the last 20 years is chiefly a manifestation of a myriad and interconnected factors and forces. The study’s findings reveals that as much as the study group are not homogenous, so is also the core driving and/or contributing forces to their “exodus”. In stark contrast to the bifurcated and uncompromising views held by Eritrea’s body politic and Sudan’s COR authorities, a more illuminating insight about the study participants’ driving forces for their irregular border-crossing(s) can generally be described as being informed by their desire for “a fulfilled life.” A more nuanced understanding of most post-independence Eritrean migrant inflows to Sudan also proves that it is of a mixed nature where the youths are leaving their homeland in droves with mixed motivations and for a variety of reasons. Their “exodus” can generally be regarded as been driven as much by the domestic and regional youth-unfriendly political situation as they are propelled and perpetuated by the unpromising state of their national economy. The study concludes that they are as much ‘reactive migrants’ as they are ‘proactive migrants’. The thesis thus posits that among post-independence Eritrea’s ‘mixed migrant collectivities’ transiting through/living in Sudan one evidently finds genuine asylum seekers and refugees as much as there are some “asylum shoppers” who can largely be regarded as refugees-of-convenience. The latter group of migrants are those whose motivation to out-migrate from Eritrea is rationalized, among others, by a search for better opportunities but learned to navigate international refugee law where they deploy their active human agency to be able to be granted protection. The study subjects claim that irrespective of the considerable risks associated with their border-crossing(s) and they have yet to achieve the material and non-material aspirations they dreamed about at the time of their exit process, they emphasize of having nothing to lose from and regret about leaving their economically unpromising “garrison state”. Finally, the study’s prediction is that given Eritrea’s constant “state of combat-readiness” and the predisposition of most its populace to “multiple uncertainties”, youth emigration rate is likely to persist than to recede (at least in the short-term). Recommendations: Contemporary Eritrea’s unregulated youth outflow is a complex problems that requires a multi-pronged approach to the country’s deep political and economic challenges and the receiving/transit country’s managements of its “guests”.  The international community and Eritrea’s development partners should constructively address its intractable political and chronic economic challenges simultaneously. Eritrea’s millennial humanitarian crisis would thus necessitate normalizing its relations with its neighbors, improving its ill-reputed rights violations and bad governance track records as well as revitalizing its weak national economy.  Degrading and dismantling of the business model operations of human smugglers and traffickers apparent in Eritrea-Sudan borders would require concerted interstate collaboration and their development partners such that clandestine cross-/trans-border youth migration is addressed in a synergic framework rather than on a piecemeal policy interventions.  As a hosting country to its Eritrean “guests” Sudan has both a political and moral responsibility to improve the fundamental human needs of those who are encamped in its remote government designated settlements. The GOS should allow civil society organizations committed towards reaching out and assisting Eritrean refugees “warehoused” in camps with nominal relief assistance. Alternately, it should relinquish restricting migrants’ freedom of movement and the right to work such that they can fend for themselves by in-migrating to the country’s urban areas.
irregular migration ; youth ;independence; eritrea ;sudan