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Eritrea, a small nation on the Horn of Africa, is one of the most isolated countries in the world. It is also one of the most secretive, and has been duly nicknamed the “African North Korea”. What is everyday life like under the dictatorship? Why do so many Eritreans flee the country in a bid to reach Europe? Our reporters Nicolas Germain and Romeo Langlois were given exceptional permission to report from Eritrea, which ranks last on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
It's very rare for Western journalists to go to Eritrea. FRANCE 24 has just spent a week there. Although often accompanied by government “minders”, our reporters tried to find out why thousands of Eritreans flee their country every month, despite there being neither war nor famine. Along with Syria and Afghanistan, Eritrea is one of the most highly represented countries among migrants trying to reach Europe.
This little-known East African nation was born in 1991 after a thirty-year armed struggle for independence against Ethiopia. Another bloody border dispute between 1998 and 2000 left some 80,000 people dead. Ever since then, Ethiopia has occupied part of Eritrea, which claims it is threatened by its vast neighbour.
The Eritrean government has therefore implemented an indefinite national military service, which is compulsory. This poorly paid service, which can last more than a decade, is the main reason why so many young people try to flee. They also want to escape poverty and the authoritarian Marxist regime of President Isaias Afwerki, the independence hero who has been in power for the last 25 years.
Our reporters met ordinary Eritreans, members of the government and the government's opponents in exile in a bid to understand this isolated, fascinating nation.