CAIRO: In its latest humanitarian report, the Cairo-based Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) has examined the complicated cases of Egyptians working abroad and illegal immigration to the West. The organization also shed light on what it perceives as the government’s failure to secure its citizens’ rights.
Egyptians working and living abroad number around 3.5 million; many of them are located in the Gulf and Arab countries, where wages and working conditions are deemed better than Egypt’s.
In its full report, the EOHR said they had been monitoring conditions of Egyptians holding jobs in foreign countries, and have concluded that their rights – domestic and foreign – are forfeited in most cases. The issue of illegal immigration received additional attention after the case of 11 university students who left their one-month exchange program in the United States dominated local headlines this month.
Seventeen Egyptian students had left Egypt on an exchange mission between Al-Mansoura University and Montana University in New York. Only six arrived at the university while 11 others fled in order to search for work.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted an intense manhunt and captured the students. The Egyptians, who are not associated with a terrorist organization and pose no security threat, are still held in FBI custody. The students are charged with violating U.S. visa and immigration laws. The Egyptian Embassy in New York has reportedly hired lawyers to work on the students’ cases and negotiate their release and return to Egypt. The students should be deported to Egypt soon.
The EOHR report cites this and other such cases, saying that the local problems and obstacles that the labor force faces in Egypt and the rising rate of unemployment are what have lead to such incidents and driven Egyptians to flee to Gulf and Western countries in pursuit of false dreams. “It became only natural to witness a huge increase in the number of Egyptians traveling to work abroad, a trend that flourished in the 1970s.
According to the report, Egyptians abroad – as a result of underemployment and lack of employment in their destination countries – had “to do jobs not consistent with the general principles of immigrants’ rights. Some of them were subject to trade, lived in inhuman conditions less than the conditions of workers from other states, because they don t have the necessary documents (illegal immigration).
“Besides, many of them faced imprisonment and illegal detention because the Egyptian embassies abroad ignored them and didn t intervene to protect them from imprisonment and violations, read the report.
According to EOHR, the Egyptian embassies abroad have waning roles, and fail to appoint delegations to monitor Egyptians working and living abroad.
The report also blames the Egyptian constitution for ignoring the rights of citizens abroad. According to the human rights group, because of the absence of Egyptian laws, citizens working abroad, especially in Gulf countries, become slaves to the kafeel (sponsorship) system.”In the 1990s, and especially during the second Gulf war, Egyptians started returning to the Gulf states, at rates less than their counterparts at the start of the 1980s, read the report.Lower rates are not the only price that Egyptian workers face with the kafeel system. Although some Egyptians, especially those working in multi-national companies in the Gulf, have contracts, many others follow the much-criticized sponsorship system imposed by Gulf states. The oppressive system outlines regulations whereby a national guarantees the worker, without a contract. This happens mostly with low-profile jobs such as farming and technical crafts.”The sponsorship system represents a serious violation to Egyptians in the Arab states, reads the report published by EOHR in late August. “Egyptians, due to this system, face illegal detentions, banning from traveling, giving the sponsor the right to confiscate passports and cancel residence rights, making an Egyptian citizen face the possibility of losing his belongings, fearing illegal arrests and detention.
The system, which the Egyptian government is notably silent on, violates the universal declaration of human rights stating that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. [And] everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. According to the EOHR, it also violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Treatment different from this directed towards nationals should be explained and well-justified, according to international laws.The Egyptian constitution, established in 1971, does not include articles pertaining to Egyptian citizens’ rights abroad, or the mechanism for their political participation. Article 52 only states that: Citizens shall have the right to permanent or temporary immigration. “While other constitutions in other states state the right of citizens abroad to the diplomatic protection of their states, reads the EOHR report. “[For instance] the sponsorship system violates many international instruments regulating human rights, nothing has been done regarding this issue from the side of the Egyptian government. The report also cites other violations against Egyptians in the Gulf that include “arbitrary retention, discrimination, torture and inhuman treatment, loss of financial belongings, violations of economic and social rights, murder, abduction, and illegal arrests. Citizens do not receive adequate diplomatic protection from their respective Egyptian embassies, according to the EOHR.
The state should protect Egyptians abroad and establish their contact with Egypt, suggests EOHR. The human rights group proposed that seminars and workshops should be carried out in Egypt and abroad aimed at studying the problems of immigrants.”That can be established by delegating representatives for taking care of Egyptians interests abroad, from diplomatic officials. The ministry concerned with foreign labor should also protect all Egyptians abroad, whatever the reason for traveling, taking measures toward guaranteeing the rights of all Egyptians and providing safeguards for them, including assurances of their ability to practice their constitutional rights, recommends the 25-page report.”A balance [should be provided] between the citizens rights abroad and the interest of the society [in Egypt], said EOHR.