Eritrea youth diaspora and their sense of National Identity

The history of the Eritrean youth in the diaspora refers back to late 1960s when they emigrated from Eritrea to neighboring countries, Europe, Middle East and America. The conditions and events leading up to and following the Eritrean Revolution (1961-1991) and the TPLF war of aggression and subsequent “no peace no war” situation (1998-2018) contributed to a rapid dispersal of Eritreans worldwide. Eritrean youth who left Eritrea in the last decades have scattered to nearly every continent. Majority of the latter generation of youth migrants left Eritrea illegally orchestrated by the defunct TPLF and European countries to depopulate Eritrea and weaken the shell of resistance. Many of whom received quick asylum bypassing the regular producers in many European countries. Despite the restless efforts made to isolate from and antagonize with their homeland, Eritrean diaspora are well connected and contribute a lot to their country.     

Despite the plethora of historical writing, there is a glaring gap between the reality of and discourse given to Eritrean diaspora. Much ink has been spilled by scholars, journalists and activists about Eritrean diaspora who share a common homeland who, either by force or by choice, have immigrated to another country. Terms like “long distance nationalism” and “transnationalism” are used to describe their emotional connection with homeland.

Compared to other diaspora groups the existence of Eritreans in diaspora is quite recent. However their organizational capacity, connection to homeland and their sense of national identity is by far ranked at the top. Eritrean youth diaspora are characterized by powerful emotional bonds to the home country. Even those who are born and grown in a foreign country are concerned and identify themselves with the homeland. Their emotional and symbolic links as well as actual social relationships of Eritrean youth diaspora is ruled by the longing and by efforts to contribute to the national development and security of Eritrea.

Eritrean youth diaspora have long been involved in the national affairs before and after independence. Historically, Eritrean youth in diaspora have formed potent organizations in their host countries to contribute and participate in the war for liberation. The Eritrean community in diaspora has a long and glorious history of participation in the national struggle. Many of the present leading officials and intellectuals within the government including but not limited to Yemane Gebreab, Dr. Laynesh Gebrehiwet, Alemseghed Tesfay, Hagos Gebrehiwet, etc. were among the many that come to the field and joined the struggle in the 1970s. The remaining constitutes the diplomatic and economic backbone of the struggle and aiding their families through philanthropic giving and other forms of involvement. The involvement and contribution of Eritrean diaspora has been replicated in resisting the TPLF war of aggression, raising Martyrs’ Fund, national development projects, public diplomacy, etc. It is quite telling that while various entities have constantly sought to eliminate the 2% rehabilitation and recovery tax, many Eritreans in the diaspora actually give much, much more (e.g. 5, 10, and even 20% of their income).

In addition to sending money, migrants transfer ideas, technology, norms of behavior and values.  These non-monetary transfers have been described by scholars as “social remittances.” Social remittance as a resource to development is of vital importance to Eritrea. Eritrean youth diaspora are participating in national development by transferring technical skills and resources to their country. In addition, they conducted public diplomacy to promote the national interest of Eritrea through understanding, informing, and influencing foreign audiences. The nature and conduct of public resistance -“hzbawi mekete” – of Eritreans is unique. The free and spontaneous association of interested and committed Eritreans have staged demonstrations in western capitals against injustice reflects the popular adage that “Every Eritrean is an ambassador of Eritrea.” The national role and contribution of the Eritrean diaspora in branding the image and reputation of Eritrea is not to be taken lightly. In diplomacy, the image and reputation of a country are public goods that can create either an enabling or a disabling environment in international relations.

Eritrean youth diaspora are cultivated their souls with national and cultural pride of Eritrea. The annual festival of Eritrean diaspora communities is one way of integration paths with the national culture. Eritrean youth including these who born and grew outside of the homeland expresses their national feeling through actions such as demonstrating against war of aggression, illegal sanctions and contributing money.

Since 2005 a very hard working community of young Eritreans in diaspora came together to establish YPFDJ. This is the strongest, largest and potent transnational organization that connected Eritrean youth diaspora with homeland. It has evolved into one of the powerful Eritrean nationalist organizations in the world and a platform of political participation. In terms of its organizational capacity and effectiveness, YPFDJ is one of the victorious post-independence organizations created by Eritreans in the Diaspora. It has become a center of attraction and a fountain of pride for Eritreans outside the country. Our brothers and sisters in abroad are our true ambassadors working to protect and advance our national interest.

Simon Weldemichael

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