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A Persistent Phenomenon: What is the Egyptian Government Doing to Combat Irregular Migration?

October 30, 2023
Photo credit: 7eNEWS
Photo credit: 7eNEWS

Mansoor* is a 17-year-old boy from a small village in Upper Egypt. After finishing a technical diploma, he saw no promising employment opportunities and worked with his father on the farm.

Seeing photos of his friends in Italy, he decided to seek travel in hopes of better opportunities abroad. He found someone who agreed to take him to Italy for a fee of EGP 100,000 (USD 3,236), with half of the amount to be paid before traveling and half upon arrival. His father sold part of his land to finance this trip.

In Egypt — and particularly in the governorates of Sharqiya, Daqahliya, Qalioubiya, Menoufiya, Gharbiya, Beheira, Kafr Al-Sheikh, Fayoum, Assiut, Luxor, and Minya — there are millions of young men like Mansoor. According to the National Centre for Social and Criminological Research (NCSCR), these 11 governorates have the largest number of irregular migrants.

Mansoor was not given any details about how he will travel or when.

“I was taken on a minibus with a few others, and then into the desert in Salloum, then we stayed for weeks in Libya, and then finally got on a boat,” Mansoor tells Egyptian Streets. “After three days, we reached Italy.”

During his twenty-day waiting time in Libya, he saw young men his age or older, some of whom could not withstand the chilly weather in the desert and were left to die there. Although families in Mansoor’s village have heard multiple stories of young men left to die on such trips, they continue to send their sons in the hope that they find better living conditions abroad.

Throughout history, there have been numerous tragedies due to shipwrecks with irregular migrants on board. Despite the endless and well-known repercussions of irregular migration, and the knowledge of many young people and their families of the risks, many continue to seek irregular migration as a means for better jobs and better living standards.

When Mansoor reached Italy, he worked at a shop that sold meat and other frozen products. But his stay in Italy only lasted for three months. One day, he got into a fight with two of his Arab colleagues in the shop, and the owner of the shop instantly brought the police. As a result, all three of them were deported to their home countries. After this incident, and after multiple investigations in Egypt, Mansoor arrived home again, back to square one.

“When people ask me about life in Italy, I tell them that it’s only nice for the Italians, not for us. We live like slaves there, and we can only accept what happens to us without objecting to anything or getting into any problems otherwise we would get deported.”

“I only wished I could give back to my father the money he sacrificed for my travel,” Mansoor laments.

Mansoor is not a rare case. Tragically, his story is one that has been recurring for several years. There are millions like Mansoor across Egypt.

Photo credit: Reuters

What is Irregular Migration?

Irregular migration or illegal migration refers to traveling from one country to another without entering via a legal route. Some view irregular migration as a preferable term to illegal migration as the latter carries a criminal connotation.

In 2022, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) revealed that approximately 22,000 Egyptian migrants arrived in Europe, mostly by sea, pushing Egypt to the top of the list of arrivals to Europe. Although Egyptian authorities have controlled migrant boat departures from Egypt’s north coast, and stopped them since 2016, smugglers continue to find ways for those seeking to leave through neighboring Libya.

In June, a fishing trawler heading from Libya to Italy with an estimated 750 people on board sank in international waters off southwestern Greece. Only 104 survivors were found. Following the tragedy, nine Egyptians were arrested on suspicion of being smugglers of people after the disaster claimed at least 80 lives.

Root Causes and Governmental Efforts

In an interview with Egyptian Streets, the Egyptian Minister for Emigration and Egyptian Expatriates’ Affairs, Soha El Gendi, discussed the reasons that drive young people towards irregular migration, and the government’s efforts to combat this complex issue.

“Several factors can drive youth towards illegal migration, including economic opportunities, lack of educational prospects, family reunification,” El Gendi tells Egyptian Streets. “These young people may be seeking better lives and employment in a different country, and usually resort to illegal routes as a result of lack of awareness and knowledge about legal migration routes or positive alternatives to illegal migration which might be available to them within their home country.”

El Gendi explains that strong community influence plays a pivotal role in addressing the issue. Since successful illegal migration stories within communities become powerful endorsements, passed down through generations, these stories foster a belief that migration is the only route to success.

With challenges to find jobs and struggles to maintain a decent life, many believe that irregular migration may be their way out — their route to success.

The Egyptian government, represented by Egypt’s Ministry of Emigration, has been exerting serious efforts to fight this harmful phenomenon and reduce its occurrence. Between programs and campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers of irregular migration and vocational training across multiple governorates, there have been several initiatives and programs launched in hopes to reduce irregular migration attempts.

“The ministry applied about 115 training of trainers (TOT) programs in 20 governorates for 4,558 beneficiaries from university youth, teachers, preachers in churches, mosque imams, and rural pioneers,” El Gendi says.

In 2016, Egypt established the National Coordinating Committee for Combating and Preventing Illegal Migration and Trafficking in Persons (NCCPIMTIP) to enhance cooperation between governmental, non-governmental, regional, and international parties to reduce irregular migration and human trafficking, as well as promote public awareness about their risks and dangers. NCCPIMTIP also mobilizes resources such as employment opportunities in Egypt, and supports legitimate migration routes.

One of the Egyptian Ministry of Emigration’s key initiatives to date is the Life Saving Boats initiative. Launched as a result of the directives of Egyptian President Abdelfattah Al-Sisi during the third World Youth Forum, the Life Saving Boats Initiative aims to raise awareness on the dangers of irregular migration, facilitate safe regular migration paths that guarantee migrants legal rights, and offer positive alternatives to Egyptian youth including vocational training opportunities in addition to employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.

Another initiative, launched in 2020, is the Egyptian German Center for Jobs, Migration, and Reintegration (EGC). EGC is a cooperation between the Ministry of State for Emigration and Egyptian Expatriates’ Affairs and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). In coordination with Germany, the center trains and prepares youth for jobs and training opportunities available in Germany, offers employment services for job seekers, and reintegration for returnees.

According to El Gendi, EGC has provided a total of 25,694 measures to Egyptians. These measures include training, career guidance, employment assistance, counseling and advisory services, as well as reintegration support.

“By reaching out to individuals through these comprehensive services, the initiative is not only addressing immediate concerns but also empowering Egyptians to make informed choices about migration alternatives and improving their prospects,” El Gendi explains.

The Future — Is There Hope?

Irregular migration is not an issue exclusive to Egypt; many governments are struggling with ways to reduce and eventually eliminate it.

Suffocating in containers, dying in a desert, or drowning in the sea while being smuggled by profit-seeking criminals — these are only some of the dangers of irregular migration.

However, with soaring inflation, extremely high prices for the most essential commodities, and a plummeting currency, the ailing Egyptian economy can be a quick driver to a phenomenon that the government has been exerting immense efforts to combat for the past few years.

Although difficult economic conditions are common around the globe today, many follow the saying: “the grass is always greener on the other side”. Little do they know that the journey in pursuit of the “greener” side may cost them their lives.

*Name changed for security reasons.

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