Over the past years, we have been forced to grow accustomed to grisly news of sinking boats and lives lost in search of livelihoods on distant shores. These rickety vessels of doom have gone as far as turning into punchlines in Egyptian comedies; a stark reminder of the hardship and desperation that has become all but commonplace to some.
Amongst young people, the perception is that everyone is waiting for a chance to get away, and opportunities abroad are scarce. But there are far more facets to the reality of emigration in Egypt. While there is certainly a struggle for employment, and while popular destination countries are selective about the migrants they let in, Egyptians’ desire to emigrate is neither unconditional, nor are the doors to working abroad entirely shut.
Spotting the gap between this perception and reality, and with a goal to curb desperate and fatal attempts at irregular migration, the Egyptian-German Center for Jobs, Migration, and Reintegration (EGC) has spent the past year establishing itself as a “one-stop shop” for potential migrants and returnees alike.
On Monday, 2 December 2021, the EGC held an event celebrating a year to its inception, hosting guests and speakers such as government ministers Nabila Makram and Rania Al-Mashat, Ministers of Emigration and Expatriate Affairs, and International Cooperation respectively, as well as the German ambassador to Egypt, Frank Hartmann, country director of the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), Alexander Solyga, a number of Egyptian parliamentarians, and foreign ambassadors among others.
Established collaboratively by the German government represented by the GIZ and the Egyptian government represented by the Ministry of Emigration and Expatriate Affairs, the center is an active effort to curb the dangers of illegal migration and assist foreign integration into German milleus.
“The initial idea came in the middle of the migration crisis in 2015,” GIZ country director Alexander Solyga tells Egyptian Streets. “In the last three years, preparatory steps were taken between the German government and the Egyptian government, […] which led to a process [whereby] one year ago we inaugurated the center.”
“The services [of the center] range from career advice and guidance, through technical skills to find employment, job counseling and job advertisement here in Egypt to find a job here,” Solyga explains. “They [include] advice on the risk of illegal migration, and ways of regular migration and support for Egyptians coming back to Egypt to start up their new life here.”
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Germany has been an attractive destination for many Egyptians over the decades, from as early as the 1960s and until today, becoming a Shangri-La for those struggling to make a living locally. With an ever-blooming, exponentially-charged economy, scarce labor, and generous welfare programs, and an aging population to Egypt’s booming young one, Germany has become a prime European destination for many immigrants – legal or otherwise.
Despite the European Union’s continued efforts to limit illegal immigration by standardizing legal, safe migration, its endeavours have largely proven insufficient. In comparison, the EGC presents a more proactive, symbiotic approach to the issue, by replacing high walls with a variety of pro bono services supporting the careers of Egyptians in Germany or even at home.
In enabling the aspirations of budding potential in fields where opportunities in Egypt are limited or where a surplus of talent cramps the job market, the services provided by the EGC also help in supplying Germany with the talent it seeks. And so, together, both countries move towards limiting casualties of riskier migration procedures.
“Through training programs supporting the development of effective job applications and resumés, as well as furthering understanding of the German job market and culture, the center is working towards upskilling Egyptians from across the country and belonging to any age group and professional or academic background,” Assistant Minister of Emigration and Egyptian Expatriate Affairs for International Cooperation, Ambassador Mohmed Khairat, tells Egyptian Streets.
“Understanding that every individual reaching out to the center for support has a completely unique set of circumstances, the center provides individual sessions where members of the center’s team advises its clients on their specific needs and objectives,” Khairat explains.
An unfortunate truth for some, however, is that not every individual struggling with employment locally may have an opportunity in Germany. If the EGC reaches this conclusion with a client, they are also dedicated to helping these individuals find employment within Egypt to help in avoiding the potentially tragic risk of migrating illegally.
Similarly, the EGC is structured to support returners: those who choose to come back to Egypt after a prolonged stay abroad (e.g. sojourners, expatriates). Through its network, the center is able to facilitate funding, housing, and support to the estranged families. This service is not limited to returnees from Germany, but is provided for any returnee from the various countries Egyptians travel to for work.
“Over the last year, we have been providing 35 extensive training programs, and with these we have reached hundreds of young Egyptians,” explains Solyga.
“We have just started. The baby is starting to walk. The first achievement is that we have put in the structures to really offer tailor-made services,” he adds. “In the second phase, in the second year of the existence of this center, we are expanding the services, we are expanding the outreach.”
Year Two and Beyond
With plans to expand its work across Egypt and to grow its offerings, the EGC is looking at a busy second year. Among other objectives, the center is planning on growing its presence outside of Cairo.
“We are happy to enter into the new phase of this center, to go to the governorates, to work also in those places where many of those migrants in Egypt are coming from, to give them proper counseling on how a legal pathway to Germany will work,” Frank Hartman, German Ambassador in Egypt, said at the event.
Minister of Emigration and Expatriate Affairs Nabila Makram tells Egyptian Streets that another aim for the center going forward is to support its clients by providing vocational training.
“There will be cooperation with NGOs and the Ministry of Social Solidarity – we will engage the center with NGOs in order to [provide personal] skills, and of course vocational training,” says Makram.
Makram also adds that the process of building and structuring the EGC is an example that will pave the way for the development of other such centers in cooperation with other countries.
With spirits and hopes high after a year of growth, all the notable attendees of the celebration highlighted the value of the effective and dedicated cooperation of the center’s staff, noting that the EGC has a unique spirit of its own.
“If you come to the center here, you can really say that on a daily basis, the Egyptian and the German staff, the staff from the Ministry of Emigration and Expatriate Affairs and the staff from the GIZ, they are working on one table, hand in hand, in partnership, with passion, and they are really tackling the problems to find solutions which are demanded and tailor-made,” says Solyga.
“We are not against migration, we are against illegal migration. If you want to migrate, this is your right,” says Makram, concluding that every Egyptian working abroad is an asset to Egypt.