In a search for a better life – current refugee crisis and the assimilation process

Dimensão analítica: Cidadania, Desigualdades e Participação Social

Título do artigo: In a search for a better life – current refugee crisis and the assimilation process

Autora: Patrycja Litewnicka

Filiação institucional: Faculdade de Letras, Universidade do Porto


Palavras-chave: refugees, Eritrea, assimilation process.

Since 2015, few if any topics are more crucial to the world´s news than the recent refugee crisis. There have always been refugees in the world, but we are experiencing the crisis more serious than anything it has been seen in past decades. It has been said that it is a worldwide problem – one whose scale and asperity is incomparable since the World War II. According to the Global Trends report published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in June 2015 (2016) [1], there were 65.3 million people displaced from their homelands by conflict or persecution in 2015. It is 5.8 million more than in 2014 (59.5 million people).

That is why, I have chosen to write a master´s thesis about the current refugee crisis in Eritrea. The main goal of the research was to present the Eritrean reality and try to understand why Eritreans leave their country by doing and analyzing life history interviews with Eritreans and Ethiopians – since Eritrea was annexed to Ethiopia until 1991.

The theoretical and empirical studies have shown that since Eritrea officially gained independence following the 1993 referendum, the country is constantly abandoned by thousands of people. During the life history interviews with Eritreans and Ethiopians living in Poland and Portugal, my narrators explained why Eritreans leave their homeland. According to the information given on the official website of the United Nations´ Refugee Agency (2016) [2] around 40,000 Eritreans crossed the Mediterranean in 2015. Moreover, most Eritreans must comply a form of forced labour, where they have no choice about where they live and work. Any objections are forbidden and the government’s opponents are sent to prison without any judicial process. Rising food prices and the lack of basic services, like water or electricity, have made Eritreans hopeless. Additionally, Eritrea is notoriously violating human rights. There is the use of torture, imprisonment without a warrant or court order, and people are often detained in an unknown location. All civil liberties are severely restricted, such as freedom of expression, association, assembly or freedom of religion.

The refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa, especially in Eritrea, which seems not to stop in the upcoming years, and the reality which Eritreans live in, are important topics for the research. The empirical part of this study has been based on five life history interviews with Eritreans and Ethiopians currently living in Poland and Portugal. The main goal of the life story interview is to synchronize the central parts, events and views in an individual’s life, organize them, cohere them, learn from them, and finally present them. It turned to be quite difficult to convince people to give their testimonies for my research. Neither the knowledge of the region and Amharic language, nor pure intentions did prompt eventual narrators to tell their life story.

Every day, thousands of Eritreans flee their country; many of them die on perilous journeys to Europe. In the report published by the United Nations Human Rights Council dealing with the human rights in Eritrea, it has been shown that the country is a totalitarian state based on total control of the citizens by the security apparatus at all levels of the Eritrean society. More and more Eritreans flee to Europe – the land of hopes and dreams. However, the reality with which they are faced in the hosting country does not seem to match the one they had in their imagination.

The adaption process in the destination country is not easier than migration. One of the five interviewees of the research used to live in Portugal for 2 years. He comes from the big and rural family of refugees living from farming. When he found out that he had got a scholarship for a master´s degree in Portugal, he agreed without hesitating for a minute. However, the Interviewee experienced a culture shock when he arrived to Portugal. He was surprised by the way of living, spending the free time or making its own budget for the month. He cannot understand how Portuguese people can go out that often when the unemployment is that high. He mentions that in Eritrea people try to save every cent, no matter how much money they receive, especially that Eritrea lacks electricity and water very often. Thought the worst part was a cultural difference between him and other students, including both Portuguese and international students. As he mentioned it is difficult to admit and share with others that he comes from a family of refugees, especially that he does not want any mercy. Very rare contact with the family made him constantly upset. Just with time he has realized that he needs to try to live differently and that being in Portugal gave him a lot of opportunities and brought him incredible friends. He is very grateful for having a chance to live in such an open-minded, respectful and friendly country like Portugal. The Interviewee mentions, that daily access to the ocean in Porto reminds him of home and his family. At the end, he is happy for being in touch with a new culture, traditions and people. It is a memorable experience for the Eritrean interviewee. He is grateful for the staying in Europe and all the opportunities which he has got. One day he would like to go back to Eritrea, but the current situation does not allow him, that is why he prefers to stay in Porto – his second “home”.

According to the Portuguese newspaper “Observador” (2017) [3], Portugal has received around 1150 refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Even though, the beginning is never easy, what the Eritrean storyteller and all the other refugees are searching for is simply the opportunity for having a dignifying life, something they cannot have in their home countries at present time.

Reference list:

[1] United Nations High Commission for Refugees. (2016a). Global Trends report. New York: United Nations. Retrieved from

[2] United Nations High Commission for Refugees. (2016b). Global forced displacement hits record high. New York, United Nations. Retrieved from

[3] Portugal já recebeu mais de 1 000 refugiados no programa europeu de recolocação. (17.02.2017). Lisbon, Observador. Retrieved from



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