Syria, Iraq and Eritrea: why people are fleeing

Refugees are leaving behind conflict, slave labour, concentration camps and torture

A migrant child from Iraq  after crossing the border from Hungary to Austria, in Nickelsdorf. Photograph: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

A migrant child from Iraq after crossing the border from Hungary to Austria, in Nickelsdorf. Photograph: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters


Under the European Commission plan announced by Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday, refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea qualify for relocation.


It is estimated that 240,000 people have died, four million have fled the country and another six million are displaced from their homes, the majority living in government-controlled areas. This means nearly half of the population of 23 million has been displaced by the conflict.

Many Syrians are young men fleeing conscription in the army or coerced to fight by the various antigovernment militias, particularly Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaada affiliate Jabha al-Nusra, which control large tracts of territory in the north and east.

The current mass movement of Syrians began in spring and is expected to diminish as winter makes crossing the Mediterranean more dangerous and difficult than during spring and summer.



After US troops withdrew from Iraq at the end of 2011, the conflict escalated due to Sunni/Shia and Arab/Kurd sectarian and ethnic tensions and rivalries.

The conflict between the forces of the Shia fundamentalist government and IS (formerly Islamic State of Iraq) began in January 2014 when IS seized control of the strategic Sunni town of Falluja and part of Ramadi, about 90km from Baghdad.

Six months later, IS captured Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, and created a fresh rush of refugees, many of them Christians; they drove the Yezidis, an ancient faith with connections to Sufi Islam and Persian Zoroast-rianism, from their villages, towns and sacred Sinjal mountains.



Located in the restive Horn of Africa, Eritrea has one party, has never conducted free elections and has no rule of law or independent judiciary.

Eritreans are forced into indefinite military service or compelled to take up jobs in the administration and public services, including as teachers, without reference to their training or expertise. Children are suffering from the system, which has compromised their future.

Governance is poor in Eritrea. Tens of thousands are treated as slave labour, arrested without charge, held in concentration camps and tortured. The government is said to back al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shebab, which is waging war in Somalia and across the border in Kenya.