Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1313, (29 september - 5 October 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1313, (29 september - 5 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Stemming the tide of illegal migrants

Parliament will prioritise new legislation tackling illegal migration when it reconvenes next week, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

Tackling illegal migration will be among the top priorities of MPs when parliament opens its second legislative season next Tuesday.

On 21 September a migrant boat capsized off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. The boat, which was carrying hundreds of illegal migrants, sailed from Egypt’s Mediterranean port city of Rosetta and was heading to Italy.

Following his return from New York last week President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi told a National Security Council meeting on Saturday that  penalties for those involved in people trafficking must be stiffened.

“The traffickers violated Egyptian and international law and exploited people’s lack of awareness against a backdrop of difficult regional and international conditions that have made Egypt a transit point for illegal migration operations,” said Al-Sisi.

During a visit to Alexandria on Monday Al-Sisi said “there can be no excuses for the fact more than 160 citizens, from Egypt and other countries, died on the Rosetta boat”.

He cautioned that “the state will not be able to stem the tide of migration alone”. The problem, he said, “must be forcefully confronted by the state and by society”.

Policing 5,000 kilometres of land and sea borders requires tremendous efforts and no one, warned Al-Sisi, can guarantee a one hundred per cent success rate.

The death toll from the capsized boat reached 170 on Tuesday. The dead include 95 Egyptians and 75 foreigners. Sources say the boat was carrying between 450 and 500 migrants – including women and children – on a vessel licensed to carry just 150 passengers.

A total of 164 people have been rescued, including 117 Egyptians and 34 foreigners, as well as the boat’s four crew members who now face charges of human trafficking.

Sources said bad weather conditions off Rosetta on Monday hampered rescue operations. According to Alaaeddin Shawki, director of Al-Beheira’s Security Department, “eight illegal traffickers have now been arrested and others are expected to be detained within hours”.

On Sunday Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati said a new bill including tougher penalties on illegal migration was submitted to parliament last June “but discussions were delayed because parliament had a very busy agenda”.

Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, head of parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, announced on Sunday that the committee would hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss the new bill.

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told reporters on Sunday that “in all probability the new bill on illegal migration be approved by the committee on Tuesday”.

“In the first plenary session of our second legislative season next Tuesday we will discuss the legislation which has become an urgent matter,” he said.

According to Abu Shoka “when the bill on illegal migration was sent to parliament last June it was approved in principle by the legislative and constitutional affairs committee though we did not discuss it article by article because we had given priority to the church building bill”.

“People or gangs actively involved in human trafficking will face tougher penalties under the new legislation. This is necessary to stem the tide of this criminal activity,” said Abu Shoka.

In a press conference on Sunday Al-Agati said that while the government will act to tighten control on Egypt’s ports the new bill aims to safeguard ordinary citizens against human traffickers whose activities have increased in tandem with “political troubles and civil wars in a number of African and Arab countries”.

“New legislation has been made necessary because Egypt is being swamped by illegal migrants from war-torn African and Arab zones like South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Syria and Libya.”

While Al-Agati thanked the border guards and policemen who participated in the Rosetta boat rescue and life-saving operation he warned that “combatting illegal migration requires international cooperation”.

“This is a very profitable area of crime and to tackle it will require greater cooperation among Mediterranean countries,” said Al-Agati. “Finding a solution to the war in Libya will also contribute to ending illegal migration.”

Abu Shoka stresses that the draft bill does not impose penalties on illegal migrants themselves.

“The bill views them as victims of illegal activity. The bill is humanitarian in that it also aims to extend help to them,” said Abu Shoka. “But it will impose penalties on families who pressure members to become illegal migrants.”

The draft law states that “members of criminal gangs that traffic migrants will face fines of between LE50,000 and LE500,000 and prison sentences ranging from six months to life imprisonment”.

An explanatory note attached to the bill explains that an anti-illegal immigration fund will be set up to help victims. The fund will be under the purview of the prime minister and will begin operating on 30 June 2017.

The bill also establishes a national anti-illegal immigration and human trafficking commission that will include representatives from all concerned ministries. It will provide training on how to combat illegal migration and operate a unit to document progress in combatting illegal migration.

According to article three of the new bill the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood will take charge of caring for children and women who fall victim to human traffickers.

The explanatory note also stresses that while “international conventions on human rights and Egypt’s 2014 constitution grant citizens the right to emigrate” this must be the result of a decision freely made and not one that can be exploited  “by criminal gangs which use the internet to secure astronomical profits”.

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