Eritreans make up the seventh largest group of people who arrive in Europe each year seeking asylum, according to the UN, even though the total population is less than 6 million.
Many thousands of Eritreans have fled the country for Europe in search for a better life. A multinational initiative is now trying to stem the flow of migrants to Europe by training refugees and giving them jobs in neighboring Ethiopia.
“I was not sure we would make it across. I am so relieved we are here,” says 19-year-old Salama – not his real name.
Together with his friend Abiro, they have been walking for two days from Eritrea, without any food or water. At one point, they claim to have been shot at by government soldiers who are stationed along the heavily militarized border between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
“The reason for fleeing from our country is because the Eritrean government keeps on forcing us to join the national service and we are wanted in our homeland.
“We walked through the bushes hiding not to be seen by the Eritrean soldiers and we were able to escape,” says Salama, the more talkative of the two.
Recent weeks have seen hundreds of Eritreans arrive at refugee camps and reception centers along Ethiopia’s northern border.
Many of those who reach Ethiopia intend to move on to Sudan and then Libya, hoping to eventually get to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea but some end up settling in Ethiopia.
It’s a risky journey that involves thousands of dollars and an intricate network of smugglers.
More than 2,000 people have died so far this year trying to make the crossing.
“I am not sure where we will go from here. It’s our first time out of Eritrea. Maybe we can settle here and get jobs,” says Abiro, speaking in his mother tongue Kunama.
“If not, we will move as far away as possible. Maybe Europe.”