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Basic info

  • Area: 117,600 sq km / 45,400 sq mi
  • Population: 4,954,645
  • Infant mortality: 45 per 1000 births
  • Life expectancy: 64.7 years
  • Urbanisation: 40.1%
  • Literacy: 73.8%


Eritrea was part of the first Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum until its decline in the 8th century. It came under the control of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, and later of the Egyptians.

The Italians captured the coastal areas in 1885 and the Treaty of Uccialli (May 2, 1889) gave Italy sovereignty over part of Eritrea. The Italians named their colony after the Roman name for the Red Sea, Mare Erythraeum, and ruled there until World War II.

The British captured Eritrea in 1941 and later administered it as a UN Trust Territory until it became federated with Ethiopia on Sept. 15, 1952.

Eritrea was made an Ethiopian province on 14th November, 1962. A civil war broke out against the Ethiopian government, led by rebel groups who opposed the union and wanted independence for Eritrea. Fighting continued over the next 32 years.

In 1991, Eritrean rebels won out. Through most of this time and even in transition, there were basic religious freedoms in Eritrea. But in 2002, even though the law technically recognizes a separation of church and state, the government ordered the closure of all religious groups except for the Orthodox Church of Eritrea, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran supported Evangelical Church of Eritrea.

Many other Christian groups not recognized by the government were forced to go underground to practice their religion, and adherents were threatened with severe consequences if caught gathering or worshipping.

Jehovah’s Witnesses were one of the first to be targeted. Between 2003 and 2005, the state moved on to targeting Christians they labeled Pentecostals. The term “Pentecostal”—or “Pentay,” however, is a generic one that the state uses to refer to Protestants in general even if they do not identify themselves as actual Pentecostals. In actuality, many of these believers belong to the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, which was formed with the support of Lutheran and Presbyterian missionary organizations.

Unfortunately, these and other Protestant Christian groups are considered a threat to the state. According to one religious liberty report from 2010, for example, Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki was said to fear Christian evangelism because it could destabilize and disunify the country.

Considered enemies to the state, the government enlists community members to spy on certain Christian groups who they see as “agents of the West.” Once identified, there are reports of Christians houses being attacked and believers being tortured, beaten, and imprisoned in horrific conditions. Some Christians have even been locked in metal shipping containers where they died of heat exhaustion and suffocation.

Today, thousands of Christians are being held in detention without being charged with a crime or given the opportunity for trial. Other Christians, not yet detained, continue to flee the country. There are also reports of Christian leaders being tortured and asked to recant their faith or sign statements that vow they will not practice their faith, gather to worship or express their beliefs in any way.

Unfortunately, while some Muslim groups face persecution as well, radical Muslims also appear to be gaining support from the government, including possibly even supplying one group with weapons. These Muslim adherents claim to be ‘Muslim first’ and see leaving Islam to convert to Christianity as a betrayal of their community. These radical Muslims are increasingly targeting Christians with violence and the state, who outlaws most Protestant groups, offers no protection.

The government, in fact, denies persecution is even happening. Despite Amnesty International reporting arbitrary arrests without trial on a large scale, the government has called such claims unsubstantiated.


Eritrea is located in the Horn of Africa in East Africa. It is bordered to the northeast and east by the Red Sea, Sudan to the west, Ethiopia to the south, and Djibouti to the southeast.

The country is virtually bisected by a branch of the East African Rift. It has fertile lands to the west, descending to desert in the east. Eritrea, at the southern end of the Red Sea, is the home of the fork in the rift. The Dahlak Archipelago and its fishing grounds are situated off the sandy and arid coastline.

Eritrea can be split into three ecoregions. To the east of the highlands are the hot, arid coastal plains stretching down to the southeast of the country. The cooler, more fertile highlands, reaching up to 3000m has a different habitat. Habitats here vary from the sub-tropical rainforest at Filfil Solomona to the precipitous cliffs and canyons of the southern highlands. The Afar Triangle or Danakil Depression of Eritrea is the probable location of a triple junction where three tectonic plates are pulling away from one another. The highest point of the country, Emba Soira, is located in the center of Eritrea, at 3,018 meters (9,902 ft) above sea level.


The Eritrean economy has undergone extreme changes due to the War of Independence. In 2011, Eritrea's GDP grew by 8.7% making it one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Eritrea has an extensive amount of resources such as copper, gold, granite, marble, and potash. A big reason for the recent growth of the Eritrean economy is the commencement of full operations in the gold and silver Bisha mine and the production of cement from the cement factory in Massawa.

80% of the Eritrean workforce are employed in agriculture. Eritrea's main agricultural products include sorghum, millet, barley, wheat, legumes, vegetables, fruits, sesame, linseed, cattle, sheep, goats and camels.

The Eritrean–Ethiopian War severely hurt Eritrea's economy. GDP growth in 1999 fell to less than 1%. In May 2000, the war resulted in some $600 million in property damage and loss, including losses of $225 million in livestock and 55,000 homes.

Agriculture is the main economic activity in Eritrea: it is a livelihood to the majority of the people who engage in crop production and livestock herding. It employs more than 70% of the work force. Most farmers depend on rainfall that is variable and unevenly distributed from year to year, and the primary goal is to improve farming practices by introducing modern technology, irrigation, terracing, soil and water conservation, with less dependence on rainwater.

Eritrea is divided into three development regions: central highlands, eastern lowlands, and the western lowlands. In each of these development regions, various projects are underway.

Ethnic groups

Ethnic Groups(%)









Eritrean Orthodox




Roman Catholic





  • 51%


  • 21%


  • 3.8%


  • 24.2%


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