Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Halting illegal migration

MPs will vote on new legislation to tackle people smuggling within two weeks, writes Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Halting illegal migration
Halting illegal migration
Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week, border guards and naval vessels thwarted a number of people smuggling operations, prompting the government to accelerate the process of issuing a new law criminalising illegal migration. 

At 2pm on 18 August the navy raided a fishing boat in Kafr Al-Sheikh and arrested 62 people of different nationalities who were attempting to travel to Italy illegally. Eight hours later border guards arrested 82 people on another fishing boat in Alexandria. 

The navy issued a statement saying the boat was apprehended during a routine inspection mission. It added that migrants and crew were given emergency medical treatment before being referred to “specialised authorities” for legal procedures.

Three weeks earlier the navy detained 146 illegal migrants and seven crew members on the North Coast. The migrants were from Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Cameroon. A boat stopped by naval forces in mid-July was found to be carrying 143 illegal migrants from Egypt, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia.

In June the army said border guards had detained 445 people before they could set sail for Europe. 

The Mediterranean Sea has become the preferred gateway to Europe for an increasing number of refugees from the Middle East and Africa who attempt to cross in large numbers on small, ill-equipped boats.

In March, a boat capsized in the Mediterranean coast off Kafr Al-Sheikh. Only nine bodies were recovered.

A report published by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS) found that a majority of Egyptian migrants hail from the four poor governorates of Fayoum, Beni Sweif, Minya and Assiut. 

“The link between increased poverty rates and illegal migration is clear,” said the study. 

Officials at the Prime Minister Office and the House of Representatives told Al-Ahram Weekly the government is tightening security at ports and border crossings which smugglers use to set sail for Europe or enter Libya and Israel and that the Ministry of Defence is tracking suspicious activities on Egypt’s northern and eastern borders. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior is working to identify local smugglers and uncover their networks, with a particular focus on the towns of Upper Egypt.

Officials also say new legislation tackling people smuggling is in the pipeline. The law being drafted will be in line with international standards, safeguarding the rights and addressing the needs of smuggled migrants. It will also stipulate hefty penalties for people smugglers, including life imprisonment and fines of LE200,000 should the smuggling result in the death or disability of migrants.

The law does not criminalise illegal migrants. Rather, it obliges the government to provide them with all necessary protection. In addition, the National Coordinating Committee to Combat and Prevent Illegal Migration (NCCCPIM) will be merged with the National Coordinating Committee for the Trafficking of Persons.

The expanded committee will be tasked with addressing irregular migration and trafficking in persons under a unified mandate. The law will also establish an assistance fund to help smuggled migrants which will be subsidised by selling assets seized from smugglers.

“The new law will streamline government policies dealing with illegal migration,” says Naela Gabr, head of the NCCCPIM. 

“Egypt is a transit point for many illegal migrants from African and Arab countries. We need a law that meets international standards to handle the issue,” she added. 

MP Bahaa Abu Shaqa, head of parliament’s Legislative Committee, says the law should be passed within the next two weeks. The debate, he adds, is now focused on which government body should assume overall management of efforts to tackle illegal migration. 

“Some members believe that there is an overlap in the work of the NCCCPIM and the Ministry of Migration. It is important to define who is responsible for what,” says Abu Shaqa.  

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has welcomed the government’s proposed law.  

“Egypt is the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to issue an anti-smuggling law complying with the ‘Smuggling Protocol’ of the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime, as well as its commitments under the Action Plan of the Valletta Summit on Migration,” said the IOM statement. 

“IOM remains committed to continue providing all the necessary support to the government and all relevant stakeholders in ensuring that smugglers are brought to justice and migrants are not re-victimised, but protected under the provisions of law.”

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