A funeral procession for Eritrean soldiers who died fighting in the Tigray invasion points to the way young peoples future is wholly decided by the government. Human Rights Watch research finds that most Eritreans have to go through compulsory military service with many “spending their entire working lives at the service of the government in either a military or civilian capacity”. In my work at Mekelle University Ayder Hospital I saw and interacted with student refugees and hundreds of patients sent by the United Nations and International Organization for Migration over the past 10 years of being in Ethiopia. They told many horror stories.
Those with close ties to the the despotic leader, Isaias Afwerki, are the only ones exempt. Otherwise all teenagers must attend Warsai Yekalo Secondary School, located in the Sawa military camp which is isolated and restricted from visitors near the border with Sudan, for the final half year of secondary school. Satellite imagery and reports from refugees describe large mass burial grounds where noncompliant students end up. Over the past twenty years more than 500,000 young people have fled Eritrea often risking a perilous crossing of the Mediterranean sea.
New conscripted soldiers are paid about 2000 Nakfa per month which is about $132 dollars. This is about half of what government civil servants are paid. Their families can be threatened if the soldier has poor performance. During the Tigray invasion Eritrean prisoners of war were found with lists of items they were supposed to acquire and help bring to Eritrea including medical equipment, computers, cars, farm equipment, telephone equipment, factory machines, and the list goes on. It is known that Ethiopia paid at least $4 billion for the mercenary services which benefited the ruling elite but only brought death for thousands of young people.
Although Gebremeskel Kassa ,Chief of Staff for the Interim Tigray Administration appointed by Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, supported Ethiopian action to take over the Tigray Regional state from the TPLF he would soon become critical of Ethiopian, Amharan, and Eritrean actions in the region leading to his seeking refuge outside Ethiopia.
Gebremeskel Kassa complained during the Ethiopian occupation of Tigray that Eritrean troops should have withdrawn from Tigray and that the violent expulsion of ethnic Tigrayans from Western Tigray was wrong. At the time the Tigray Interim Administration took power he stated emphatically that their goal was to maintain the current borders of Tigray previously ruled by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front and not to give Western Tigray to Amhara. He and others also pushed unsuccessfully for the Prime Minister to seek talks to resolve the crisis.
In January 2021 he told Reuters News Service that 2 million people were displaced in Tigray but Mitiku Kassa of the Ethiopia’s National Disaster Risk Management Commission contradicted his pronouncement with a lie that it was only 110,000. Then in March 2021 in an interview with BBC he complained that Eritrean and Amhara military authorities blocked the Tigray Interim Administration from setting up local civilian services and also blocked action to provide any law enforcement protection, health care restoration, food aid, or investigation of violations of human rights which he admitted had been done by the occupying forces.
Kassa left Tigray when the Tigray Defense Force resurged in June 2021. He joins other former Tigray Interim Administration officials who have grown increasingly critical of the Abiy Ahmed directed policy of lies, abuse, deprivation, and genocide toward the Tigray state and its population. Now he has fled Ethiopia and asking for asylum in an unnamed country after he became the subject of an inquiry blaming him as well as other officials for the military defeat.