Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1299, (9 - 15 June 2016)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1299, (9 - 15 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

More deaths at sea

Hundreds of migrants lost their lives this week attempting to cross the Mediterranean, Doaa El-Bey reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Greek coastguard rescued 342 migrants from an 82-foot fishing boat which is believed to have left Egypt for Italy on the night of 2 June.

The vessel called for urgent assistance late Thursday when it began to sink in international waters, 75 nautical miles south of Crete.

Nine bodies were recovered from the scene, a number likely to rise given unconfirmed reports that there were up to 700 people on board, said a coast guard spokesman said. 

Libyan authorities say the bodies of more than 100 migrants, including many women and children, were found washed up on a beach in western Libya on 3 June.

“So far 117 bodies have been found, most of them women but including six children,” Khames Al-Boussefi, spokesman for the Libyan Red Crescent, was quoted as saying by news agencies this week. “We are going out again to search around Zwara and nearby beaches,” he said. Most of the victims were from African countries.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid announced that “the consular section of the Foreign Ministry has been in intensive communication with Libyan and Greek authorities since 3 June to help in the search for survivors of the boat carrying illegal migrants.”

He added that 250 migrants had been saved.

While the numbers from Greek, Egyptian and Libyan authorities conflict one thing is clear: large numbers of people remain willing to undertake the hazardous Mediterranean crossing despite knowing that in doing so they put their lives at risk.

While the number of illegal migrants tends to rise in the summer months the rise this year is steeper than usual, a result of deteriorating conditions in Syria and the disorder in Libya. 

The warmer weather has encouraged smugglers and brokers to pack migrants into unseaworthy boats which leave from North Africa and head to Europe.

An estimated 205,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean since January, according to theUN refugee agency. But more than  2,500 have dies in the same period as they attempted to make the crossing, most of them between Libya and Italy.

“Illegal migration is one of the greatest challenges facing Egypt today,” says Naila Gabr, head of the National Coordinating Committee on Preventing and Combating Illegal Migration (NCCPIM).

Illegal child migrants, some as young as six, have grown in number since 2009 when Italy issued a law banning the return of unaccompanied children to their countries until they reach 18 years.

“Many parents are now willing to force their children to migrate alone, knowing that they will not be deported back to Egypt if they are arrested in Italy,” says Gabr. In 2009, 15,000 illegal migrants from Egypt crossed the Mediterranean. By 2015 the figure had increased to 80,000 or 90,000. In the same period the average age of migrants fell, with many now aged between six and 15 years.

The NCCPIM, which was established in March 2014 and works in collaboration with government bodies and civil society organisations, is examining ways to encourage young people to stay in Egypt. It has already drafted a law defining illegal migration and setting penalties for those involved in the trade. NCCPIM finished the draft of the law last July. It was approved by the cabinet in November and has been reviewed by the State Council. It is now awaiting ratification by the House of Representatives.

NCCPIM, in cooperation with the National Centre for Social and Criminological Studies, also contributed to preparing the first study of illegal migration by unaccompanied young people. The results of the study will be published later this year. It seeks to provide information, and spread awareness of the issue, by visiting villages that have sent illegal migrants abroad. Committee members talk to young people, families, teachers and others explaining the dangers of illegal migration.

The committee plans to launch a media campaign this summer, in English and Arabic, that will seek to convince young people that their future is in Egypt rather than abroad.

It has already begun a daily radio broadcast under the title ‘Save me, Thank you’  that addresses the dangers of illegal migration. The first episode was broadcast on the first day of Ramadan.

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