Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Professor to lecture on African refugees of Eritrea

Forced military service or exile: this is a decision many citizens of Eritrea face.

This Wednesday, Nov. 19, Associate Professor of anthropology Tricia Hepner will present on one of the biggest refugee producers in Africa: Eritrea. The small African nation is notorious for its brutal treatment of enlisted soldiers, many of whom are destined to serve in the country's military for their entire lives as part of an economic development campaign. To avoid this fate, citizens tend to leave the country in droves and seek asylum in nearby Israel.

"Warsay-yika'alo" or forced conscription, has created an environment of marginalization for the nation's citizens. Originally designed by the dictator to improve the small country's economy, it involved six months of military training and one year of service for all men and women between the ages 18 and 45. A two-year war with Ethiopia, however, caused political unrest in the region and the mass arrests of many dissidents. As a result, the limit on military service was removed, forcing Eritreans to serve indefinitely.

In her lecture, Hepner will discuss the country, the refugees and the disenfranchisement of asylum-seekers through the policies that have been put in place to handle them.

"She will talk about how marginalization and militarization in Eritrea generate refugees, and how international and domestic migration policies can work against vulnerable people claiming the basic human right of asylum," said Michael Schilling, Club Geography president and senior in geography.

As part of the "Perspectives on Structural Violence" event series that was started by the Student Sociology Committee, Club Geography and the Global Studies Club last September, the event will explore the complex relationship between international influence and the creation of migration policy and law. The series aims to address the multi-faceted issue of structural violence, or the phenomenon in which social structures and institutions can act against those participating in them, preventing them from reaching their basic human needs.

"Our hope in sponsoring this series is to create dialogue and inspire action around the often silent issues that impact our communities and the world around us," said Colleen Ryan, co-founder of the Global Studies Club and undecided sophomore.

Hepner, who received a Ph.D. in anthropology from Michigan State University and a certificate in forced migration and refugee studies from the Center for Refugee Studies in York University, has had extensive experience with Eritrea and similar cases of forced migration and refugees. She researched the nation for more than 20 years and assisted in more than 300 cases of refugees from the country. Additionally, she has published several books and articles in this field, including a book titled "Soldiers, Martyrs, Traitors and Exiles: Political Conflict in Eritrea and the Diaspora."

The event will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Hodges Library, Room 213. There will be a presentation as well as an open discussion where attendees can ask Hepner questions.
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