Monday,20 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)
Monday,20 August, 2018
Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Mobilising for youth

Various organisations are helping in the struggle against illegal youth migration, writes Mai Samih

illegal migration
illegal migration
Al-Ahram Weekly

According to Save the Children, a non-profit organisation that works on protecting the rights of children, the number of Egyptian minors arriving illegally in Italy from January to August 2013 was more than 250, with a further 300 adults. Moreover, around 750 Syrian minors and more than 1,400 adults arrived illegally in Egypt over the same period. These figures draw attention to the problem of irregular youth migration.

 This took off in the early 1990s and most cases are of young people. On 3 October, 2013, some 366 migrants, including 15 children, died off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they had become stranded while attempting to reach Europe from North Africa. On 11 October in the same year, there was another shipwreck leaving 268 migrants dead, most of them Syrians. The majority of these were children aged 13 to 17, in some cases as young as eight, who were not accompanied by adults. Italian law prevents children under the age of 18 from being repatriated.

According to Save the Children, a main reason for the rise in illegal migration is poor living standards. Young people see better opportunities abroad, and they may feel that they do not have the social and economic rights that others of their age have in their countries of origin and that they could better themselves abroad.

Syrian migrants are mostly fleeing Syria as a result of the conflict in their country, heading for neighbouring countries including European ones. Syrian minors risk their lives to escape economic hardships by travelling by boat in very unsafe conditions. They are also at high risk of exploitation and human-trafficking.  

“Baladna Awla be Weladna” (our country is worth our children), a project launched in 2011 by Save the Children, aims at ending the illegal migration of young people from Arab countries. It hopes to reduce the number of unaccompanied Egyptian minors who are at risk of irregular migration to southern Europe and to Italy in particular.

On 27 March this year, Save the Children held a conference in Cairo to raise awareness about the irregular migration of minors and the “Baladna Awla be Weladna” project in collaboration with the Youth Association for Population and Development (YAPD), an NGO established in 1995 by university students wanting to help develop Egypt by enrolling more young people in this process. The conference was under the   auspices of Minister of Youth Khaled Abdel-Aziz.

Noheier Nashaat, director of the programme at Save the Children, said that the “Baladna Awla be Weladna” project was funded by the European Union and carried out by Save the Children in collaboration with YAPD. It aims to decrease the number of children at risk of illegal migration, especially from Egypt to Italy, in cooperation with the Italian authorities and focussing on four Egyptian governorates, Alexandria, Beheira, Gharbiya, and Assiut.

In Italy, reception places for minors have been made available in Rome, Milan and Turin. “Save the Children was concerned by statistics saying that 25 per cent of illegal migrants in Italy were Egyptian minors. We discovered that there were many factors driving children away from Egypt and even more attracting them to Italy,” Nashaat said.  

The project’s work is carried out on three levels, she added. First, there is a need to raise awareness among young people of the dangers of illegal migration by giving them the support they need so that they feel part of the institutions they work in and feel active in society. Second, there is a need to change current policies in order to protect children at the source in their families and pay more attention to the needs of these families. Third, the project aims to provide alternatives for young people by finding training and work opportunities with the assistance of the private sector. The idea is to replicate these initiatives outside the present four governorates involved.  

The project targets 52,000 minors who are at risk of irregular migration as well as some 350,000 others with the help of volunteers in Gharbiya, Alexandria, Beheira and Assiut, which are where most of the children at risk come from. The project aims to enhance the capacities of civil society, and it is working on empowering stakeholders in improving living conditions, in this way reducing the number of Egyptian minors who are at risk of irregular migration.

It also aims at facilitating communication channels between the target group and the private sector, in order to link employers and the potential labour force seeking job opportunities. It aims to enhance the life skills of minors through vocational training to make sure that they are equipped with the skills needed in an increasingly demanding labour market. It wants to improve policies to enable local communities to protect children liable to irregular migration and to raise awareness through “minor leaders” – peers who are given instruction about the topic and help raise the awareness of others.

Some 8,000 or more young people benefited from the programme in 2013. In 2014, the number of companies participating in the employment fairs it organises was 29 in Assiut, with 1,500 attendees, and 50 in Alexandria, with 3,000 attendees. Nineteen companies took part in Beheira, with 1,000 attendees.

Of these employment fairs Nashaat says that “we organised a fair in Assiut and another in Alexandria and we are arranging a third in Beheira. The idea is to link the youth in need of employment with the companies needing staff, so that at the end of the day they either have a job opportunity or at least the companies collect their CVs for future reference.”

Mustafa Adel, the immigration project officer who is also responsible for training and employment, said that “our target is also university and secondary school graduates, so we don’t only focus on blue-collar jobs. The jobs offered are mainly vocational ones like electronics maintenance. Often, they are jobs in factories like in Assiut, Al-Ameriya and Borg Al-Arab.” According to Adel, a follow-up plan is being developed to contact the companies to see how many of the attendees at the fairs passed interviews and find out why the young people were rejected, if this was the case.

Sara Ahmed, 23, who graduated from the Faculty of Commerce at Assiut University in 2012, was one of the trainees that got a job because of the fairs. “I was attending a training course organised by Save the Children that lasted for four days and that taught us the basics of administrative work like how to be a good secretary,” she said. “Then, one of my teachers told me there was a fair that offered job opportunities. I really benefited from the course, as we were taught how to deal with clients and how to organise ourselves. What we do need is more courses that last for a longer period of time so that we can gain more experience,” Ahmed said.    

Save the Children established its offices in Egypt in 1982 and has been working since then with vulnerable communities, civil society organisations, governmental institutions and the private sector. In 2011, it helped improve the lives of over two million children in 13 governorates in Egypt by focussing on improving their health, education and livelihoods.

Regarding the reception of any Egyptian minors arriving in Italy, Nashaat said that “the first thing that happens after the reception of the children is that they are registered in a reception centre on the border. Then they are transferred to other centres in Italy itself. There, they are given food and shelter and after that taught Italian in what is called a social integration programme that aims to educate them.”

She warned against minors travelling to Italy illegally. “After the revolutions the Arab countries have witnessed over the past three years, the centres have become very crowded places as there are many young people in them from Arab Spring countries like Tunisia and Syria.” Many of these young people may not be successful in finding jobs in Italy, though the reception centres will remain open to them.

“There should be harsher sanctions against the smuggling activities that are taking place,” Nashaat said. “There should be more focus on the quality of the education these young people receive. There should be more support for employment centres by the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration to help support young people.”

“There should be more transparency,” Adel added. If this were the case, companies would be encouraged to give clearer ideas of their employment needs, meaning that fairs could be better organised.

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