Feruz Kaissy
Every year around 20,000 Eritreans aged between 17 and 50 years are forced to enroll in national service to serve the country’s political regime. Citizens are required to work for unspecified periods, in slave-like conditions, or face incarceration in Eritrea’s notorious prison system, where detainees are seldom released.

The, Stop National Service Slavery in Eritrea Campaign launches today (January 1st) in Sweden, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, UK and Italy. The campaign links Eritrean born activists across Europe and will call upon local governments to recognise the oppressive regime in Eritrea, which is responsible for the mass exodus of 18,000 citizens, who risk their lives trying to escape.

The campaign will last six months and will culminate in Geneva in June, where the group will appeal the UN Human Rights Council to intervene in Eritrea. Organizers of the campaign state:‘ we have seen the boat disaster in Lampedusa in October, we continue to be devastated by the heinous acts committed against our brothers and sisters in Libya and the Sinai Desert, in Tel Aviv and the refugee camps across the region in the Horn of Africa young Eritreans continue to suffer, all this is because they can’t live freely in their own homes, we want the enslaving of young Eritreans to stop and we appeal for the world to recognize the National Service as the slavery it is’.

Elderly people, or those of ill health who are unable to leave Eritrea, have little means to support themselves. Family members who remain in the country are penalized for their relatives escape, and left financially destitute. Those who are unable to pay the extortionate fines face imprisonment.

Campaigners believe that understanding the root cause of the exodus, is key to resolving the refugee crisis which claims the lives of thousands of Eritreans every year. The campaigners come from six European countries and will be lobbying their respective governments before heading to Geneva in June. Speaking of some of the activities involved coordinators said: ‘we will obviously involve traditional lobbying techniques such as, letters, face to face meetings with officials, but in reflection to our diverse backgrounds we have also got plans to utilize social media and arts to drive our message home’

The following organisations are already signed up, but calls will go out for more Eritrean Youth Organisations to join the Campaign: Eritrean Youth Group in Swiss, United for Eritrea (Germany), Eritrean Youth for National Salvation EYSNS (Italy), Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change EYSC (UK), Young Wave Eritrea (Sweden, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy), Eritrean Youth Group in West London (UK).