The size of the population in Eritrea is uncertain. In 2019, the UN estimated about 5.3 million. The country has a very large outflow of refugees in the world, calculated per resident. Around one million Eritreans are estimated to reside abroad; more than half of them were 2018 refugees according to UNHCR. Tigreans are the largest of Eritrea’s nine officially recognized ethnic groups.
Nearly two out of three Eritreans live in the countryside. Most densely populated is the fertile highlands of central Eritrea, while the arid regions along the coast are sparsely populated. The population is young and the Population growth is high.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Key populations estimated size and data of Eritrea, including population density of how many people per square mile. Also included are facts for population and language.
The ethnic groups are divided by language. The tigers are about half the population. They are Christian and live mainly from highland farming. The Tigers speak Tigrinya (tigrinja), which, like the sister language Amharic (amharinja) in Ethiopia, originated in the ancient Semitic language ge’ez (see also Religion). Upwards of a third of the Eritreans, both in the highlands and on the plains in the west, speak similarly closely related language tigré. The tiger speakers are predominantly Muslims and nomadic herdsmen.
The Afars (formerly called Danakiles) are one of several groups that speak Cushitic languages. The Afars are Muslims and nomadic camel keepers, and live in the hot southern and southeastern parts of Eritrea.
In the lowlands in the south-west live small groups of kunama and baria (nara) who speak Nilo-Saharan languages and are mainly farmers and Muslims.
Tigrinese, Arabic and English are used in public contexts. Only smaller groups of Eritreans are native speakers of Arabic, but Arabic is common as a second language. English is becoming increasingly widespread as a commercial language and is also a teaching language in high school and college.
Eritreans have for a long time had reason to flee their country. During the liberation war (1962–1991), hundreds of thousands went to neighboring countries, mainly Sudan, as well as to Europe and the United States. Many returned after independence in 1993. The war against Ethiopia in 1998–2000 caused new refugee flows.
But even more have left since then. Hundreds of thousands of people have escaped oppression, despite the danger of life. Very few people under the age of 50 are allowed to leave the country. Anyone detected at the border is at risk of being shot. Most who give up are young.
In 2018, 550,000 Eritreans were registered as refugees abroad, according to the UN agency UNHCR. This corresponds to one tenth of the country’s population. UNHCR estimates that between 3,000 and 5,000 Eritreans leave their country every month. Many of the refugees are in camps in Sudan and Ethiopia. In 2018, UNHCR estimated the number of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia to just over 110,000. Among them were many unaccompanied children. All the refugees lived in camps and were completely dependent on humanitarian aid for their survival.
Every year, several thousands try to reach Europe by contacting human traffickers in Sudan who take them to the Mediterranean via Libya and to a lesser extent Egypt. The fact that Eritrea signed a peace agreement with Ethiopia 2018 (see Foreign Policy and Defense) has not significantly reduced the refugee stream out of Eritrea.
The road to Europe across the Mediterranean is often fatal for the refugees. In October 2013, about 350 migrants, most Eritreans, drowned when a ship lost its ship off the Italian island of Lampedusa. The number of Eritreans trying to get to Europe increased every year until 2018 when the EU introduced a stricter asylum policy.
There are also reports that many thousands of Eritreans have been robbed, mainly during an ongoing flight or from refugee camps in Sudan or Ethiopia. Many have been held captive and tortured, often by Bedouin clans in the Egyptian Sinai desert. Meanwhile, their relatives have been squeezed for money, often large sums. In cases where the relatives have not been able to pay, the victims may be murdered. Other abducted Eritreans have been sold as sex slaves or forced laborers.
FACTS – POPULATION AND LANGUAGE
tigreans about 50%, tiger count about 30%, other groups (afar, saho, beja, blin, kunama, baria, rashaida) about 20%
Number of residents
Number of residents per square kilometer
Percentage of residents in the cities
35.8 percent (2011)
32.2 per 1000 residents (2016)
6.9 per 1000 residents (2016)
2.5 percent (2016)
4.1 number of births per woman (2016)
Percentage of women
49.9 percent (2011)
65 years (2016)
Life expectancy for women
67 years (2016)
Life expectancy for men
63 years (2016)
tigrinese, arabic and english are official languages; other major languages are tiger, afar, saho and more
Attack on military base
The resistance group RSADO claims to have carried out a major attack on a military base and killed or injured more than 100 people.
Peacekeeping efforts cease
The UN Security Council votes unanimously to end its peacekeeping efforts between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The mandate ends on July 30.
Border battle with Djibouti
Fighting breaks out along the border with Djibouti. Eritrea is accused by the outside world of being the attacking party but denies it.
Excited at the border with Djibouti
Djibouti is accusing Eritrean troops of digging trenches in the disputed Ras Doumeira border area and making raids across the border. Eritrea denies the charges.