About Eritrea


Eritrea and Eritreans in Seattle‭

Eritrea is a small African country on the coast of the Red Sea in eastern African.‭ ‬In an area known as the‭ “‬Horn of Africa,‭” ‬Eritrea borders Ethiopia,‭ ‬Sudan,‭ ‬and Djibouti.‭ ‬In‭ ‬2010,‭ ‬Eritrea had a population of about‭ ‬5.6‭ ‬million.‭ ‬In Eritrea,‭ ‬Islam and Coptic Christianity are the dominant religions.‭ ‬Eritrea’s‭ ‬670‭ ‬miles of coastline makes the country a strategically important point along the Red Sea and different invaders have sought to control the area for centuries.‭ ‬The Ottoman Empire controlled the area now known as Eritrea from‭ ‬1557‭ ‬until‭ ‬1865,‭ ‬when the Egyptians took possession of the region.‭ ‬Not long after,‭ ‬Italy colonized the country in‭ ‬1889‭ ‬and held onto the colony until World War II.‭ ‬1941,‭ ‬the British expelled Italian forces from‭ “‬Italian East Africa,‭” ‬a colony created in the‭ ‬1930s made up of Ethiopia,‭ ‬Eritrea,‭ ‬and Italian Somali land.‭ ‬In‭ ‬1952,‭ ‬Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia by a UN Mandate and allowed an autonomous parliament.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬in‭ ‬1962,‭ ‬Ethiopian Emperor HaileSelassie annexed the territory and dissolved Eritrea’s Parliament.‭

This marked the start of a‭ ‬30-year civil war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.‭ ‬Two Eritrean groups led the effort in the war,‭ ‬the Eritrean Liberation Front‭ (‬ELF‭) ‬and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front‭ (‬EPLF‭)‬,‭ ‬which split off from the ELF in‭ ‬1970.‭ ‬By the late‭ ‬1970s,‭ ‬the EPLF had mostly taken over the war effort,‭ ‬and many ELF members moved to Sudan as refugees.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬hundreds of thousands of Eritrean civilians also fled Eritrea as a result of conditions during the war and a severe drought.‭ ‬Eritrean refugees usually first came to African countries like Sudan and,‭ ‬in some cases,‭ ‬were able to move to Europe or the United States.‭

On May‭ ‬24,‭ ‬1991,‭ ‬Eritrea announced its independence from Ethiopia,‭ ‬after having driven the remaining Ethiopian army from the region.‭ ‬On May‭ ‬24,‭ ‬1993,‭ ‬Eritrea became internationally recognized as the newest country in Africa.‭ ‬From‭ ‬1998‭ ‬to‭ ‬2000,‭ ‬Eritrea was again at war with Ethiopia over a border dispute,‭ ‬meaning Eritreans were again displaced from their home country.‭

Arriving in Seattle‭

The first Eritreans to come to Seattle came in the‭ ‬1960s and‭ ‬1970s as students on scholarships or,‭ ‬in a minority of cases,‭ ‬jumped ship when their employers‭’ ‬boats docked in Seattle shipyards.‭ ‬It was not until the late‭ ‬1970s that the first Eritrean refugees arrived after a change in U.S.‭ ‬policy towards African refugees during the Carter Administration.‭ ‬With the help of a lawyer hired to represent Eritrean refugees in Sudan and later the‭ ‬1980‭ ‬Refugee Act,‭ ‬the first Eritrean refugees arrived in the United States in the late‭ ‬1970s and early‭ ‬1980s.‭ ‬Individuals and churches in the Seattle area sponsored Eritreans and the community grew quickly.‭ ‬New immigrants faced the challenges of a new culture,‭ ‬language,‭ ‬and different educational systems in Seattle.‭ ‬Most Eritrean refugees came to Seattle between‭ ‬1989‭ ‬and‭ ‬1993.‭

There are currently somewhere between‭ ‬8,000‭ ‬and‭ ‬10,000‭ ‬Eritreans living in the Seattle area,‭ ‬most of whom came to the United States as refugees.‭ ‬Though relative to other immigrant groups in Seattle,‭ ‬this number is small,‭ ‬the Seattle’s Eritrean community makes up more than one quarter of the Eritrean population in the United States and is among the largest Eritrean communities in the country.‭

Seattle’s Eritrean Community‭

The first Eritrean organizations in Seattle were political groups focused on what was happening back in Eritrea.‭ ‬The first,‭ ‬organization was‭ ‬founded by students in the‭ ‬1970s‭ ‬.‭ ‬This name of the organization was‭ ‬ Eritreans for Liberation in Northern America.‭ ‬By early‭ ‬1980s.‭ ‬Eritrean community members debated what the new purpose of their organizations should be‭ ‬–‭ ‬some were in favor of creating a lobby group on behalf of Eritrea and others pushed for a community organization that would help and support Eritreans in Seattle.‭ ‬The Eritrean Community Association in Seattle and Vicinity was created in‭ ‬1983,‭ ‬transformed into organizations that celebrated Eritrean culture and language and sought to help new immigrants to the Seattle area.