Imagining Emigration: Debating National Duty in Eritrean Classrooms


Emigration is effectively illegal in Eritrea; however, Eritrea cultivates a loyal, active diaspora. Graduated emigration policies create a territorially bound population to provide cheap labor to the state and a diaspora that contributes financial resources to the government. The celebration of diasporic nationalism has successfully produced a longing to return among the diaspora, but it has inadvertently produced a longing to leave among Eritreans trapped in Eritrea. These contradictions are explored by examining classroom debates about emigration. Emigration debates allow teachers and students to articulate conflicting beliefs about national duty, personal aspirations, and the state. These debates enable teachers and students to construct emigration as part of their national duty, but they expose a critique of state policies that mandates different kinds of sacrifices for Eritreans in Eritrea and in the diaspora.