A man fishes from his boat as a group of migrants gather on the seawall at the Saint Ludovic border crossing on the Mediterranean Sea between Vintimille, Italy and Menton, France, June 14, 2015. On Saturday, some 200 migrants, principally from Eritrea and Sudan who attempted to cross the border, were blocked by Italian police and French gendarmes.
Eric Gaillard / Reuters

Every month some 5,000 Eritreans defy the “shoot on sight” policy of their country’s border guards and escape on foot to neighboring Sudan and Ethiopia. Eritreans now make up the fourth largest group of asylum seekers in the European Union, and second largest group to arrive in Italy by boat after the Syrians. Unlike the Syrians, however, they are not fleeing civil war. Instead, they are escaping indefinite military service and repressive measures, such as forced labor and widespread imprisonment, that may, according to a recent UN inquiry, constitute crimes against humanity.


Eritrea’s descent into its current humanitarian crisis began with its 1993 independence. President Isaias Afwerki made a set of bad foreign policy choices that entangled the country in conflicts with each of its neighbors. Eritrea began a proxy war with Sudan in 1994, only one year after gaining independence. Two years later it instigated a war with Yemen by

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  • GOITOM GEBRELUEL is a researcher at the Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development and a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Cambridge.
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