After Syrians and Afghans, the largest nationality of people who are fleeing as refugees to Europe are Eritreans. And the vast majority of Eritreans who are fleeing to Europe are young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are escaping an oppressive system of compulsory national service.

National service itself is not a problem. Lots of liberal democracies have some of draft or conscription. But “national service” in Eritrea takes this to the extreme and has become a system of forced labor and population control.

Amnesty International recently published a report called Just Deserters: Why Indefinite National Service in Eritrea has Created a Generation of Refugees that explores in depth the human rights abuses of this system and its implications for global security. On the to discuss this issue is  the report’s lead author, Claire Beston.

We discuss how this system works, why so many young Eritreans are fleeing the country, and why countries in Europe are turning a blind eye to this major driver of refugees to their shore.

Eritrea is sometimes called “The North Korea of Africa” because it’s also run by a paranoid government, seemingly intent on controlling all aspects of their citizens lives. But human rights abuses in Eritrea have so far escaped public imagination in the west in the same way as North Korea. As a consequence, the international community is not doing what it can to compel this oppressive regime to change ways.

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