The small nation of Eritrea, located north of Ethiopia and east of Sudan, is among the highest refugee-producing nations in the world. That’s amazing when you consider that Eritrea only recently gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. In the short years since then, President Isaias Afwerki has managed to create an intolerable environment for his own people — a hell fueled by the flames of human rights violations.
There have been no elections in Eritrea since it gained its independence. Instead, The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, headed by President Isaias, is the only political party. His highly centralized, authoritarian regime is known for arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, forced labor, extrajudicial killing, inhumane prison conditions, restrictions on freedom of expression, and religious persecution.
Each month, as many as 3,000 Eritreans flee their native land and seek refuge in Sudan or Ethiopia. It is estimated that as many as 2 million Eritreans now live as refugees globally. Among those fleeing the country are young men seeking to escape forced and indefinite conscription into the military. The most vulnerable among the refugees are the unaccompanied children. Many of these kids do not know if their parents are alive or dead. Others are trying to find family members who have gone before them.
Those fleeing usually leave home with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They do not carry any identification lest they be caught and unwittingly endanger the welfare of any family members still in Eritrea. When refugees arrive in Ethiopia, they are picked up and taken to a transition center where the Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs establishes their identity. These individuals are then housed at the Endabaguna Transition Center until they are assigned to one of four refugee camps.
Generally, adults and families are relocated to one of the four displacement camps within a matter of days. However, not so for any unaccompanied refugee minors. These kids spend as many as six months at the Endabaguna Transition Center where they sleep as many as fifty per room on hard concrete floors. These children use filthy latrines and have no paper products or water for basic hygiene. They survive on a meager daily food ration, live in fear of human traffickers if they wander from the center, and have nothing to do but wait.
Our missions ministry will team up with my dear friend and mentor Dr. Jerry Squyres to address the needs of the unaccompanied Eritrean refugee minors living in the Endabaguna Transition Center. Dr. Squyres is the founder of Innovative Humanitarian Solutions, a Christian nongovernmental organization that has been granted permission to help make life better for all unaccompanied refugee minors at the transition center. Plans for the coming months include building a dormitory for the boys and girls, complete with bunk beds and restroom facilities. Longer term plans call for providing teachers, medical care, counseling, and helping these children understand the hope of the gospel.
This summer, we will challenge the kids who attend our VBS at Kingsland to help change the world for the unaccompanied Eritrean children living on the ragged edge of danger. Kingsland kids know that God can use them now to make a difference — that they don’t have to wait until they are older to bring healing, help, and hope in Jesus’ name to those in need. On Wednesday, Leslee McWhirter, Kingsland’s Interim Minister to Children, and I will accompany Dr. Squyres and others to northern Ethiopia to serve the Eritrean children there. I invite you to follow our adventure and to pray daily for the endangered children of Eritrea.
Photo Credit: Dr. Jerry Squyres