A few days after salvaging around 1,000 illegal immigrants off the shore of neighbouring Libya, Egypt moderated a European-African agreement on an action plan to combat illegal immigration human trafficking
A Thursday Sharm El-Sheikh meeting between the European and African Unions’ officials witnessed cooperation on migration routes, and the fight against illegal immigration and human trafficking.
Egypt has dedicated all its efforts towards the issuance of a strategy with concrete results, development plans and providing international funding, the Foreign Ministry said Saturday. The ministry added that the agreement should achieve the interests of all parties.
“The coming period will witness an increasing coordination both the European and African sides,” the Foreign Ministry stated.
The initiative comes as part of Egypt’s role in calling on the EU to adopt a more positive policy towards illegal immigration, whilst opening new pathways for legal immigration. This comes especially in light of the high number of casualties in recent times, said the Foreign Ministry statement.
Following the drowning of the Libyan vessel on 19 April, media and public opinion have pointed their fingers towards world leaders to find resolutions for the escalating problems.
From the European shore
David Cameron and other EU leaders met in Brussels Thursday to consider launching a military operation against Libyan migrant traffickers. This will occur through identifying, capturing and destroying vessels before they are used by traffickers, reported British newspaper The Telegraph.
“Europe is taking an immoral stance towards illegal immigration,” said Mostafa Al-Gammal, a researcher at the Arab and African Research Centre. “European countries should not have the mentality of hitting immigration vessels or increasing patrol boats. Instead, they should care for developmental projects.”
Placing the blame on Europe, Al-Gammal said that the West’s exploitation of Africa plays a key role in the crisis.
The West supports dictatorships in Africa and the Middle East, in return for acquiring raw materials. They deal with Africa as merely a source of oil and whatever other resources they can get, the researcher stated, adding: “Europe did not work on real development in Africa.”
Vessels carrying illegal immigrants fleeing poverty and war usually depart from Libya. Italy, the European country closest to Libya, receives the majority of illegal migrants, mainly from Syria, Mali and Eritrea. In 2014 alone, 170,000 migrants arrived in Italy by sea.
Thousands of migrants also attempt to reach Greece by land and sea. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 219,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean in 2014.
Globalisation ensures the freedoms of travel for products and ideas, but when it comes to people, it is restricting, he said. People are not allowed to enter the EU through legal methods, due to racism and Islamophobia. However, Westerners are given visas on arrival in the airport.
As corruption and oppression increases, the youth have no hope but to sacrifice their lives to reach what development they see in Europe on television, Al-Gammal explained.
Trafficking in Egypt
Shared borders between Egypt and Libya witness immigration flows, despite security agreements between the two countries and the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issuing several warnings against such attempts.
Yet trafficking constitutes a bigger problem. For the last two years, refugees and asylum-seekers, most of them Eritrean, have been kidnapped from refugee camps in Sudan and transported to the Sinai desert, where they are held for ransom by Bedouin gangs.
There is not enough security control in Sinai, which contributes to the spread of gangs, whether consisting of residents or from outsiders.
“They traffic immigrants to Israel, sometimes killing them and trafficking their organs,” said Al-Gammal.
In February 2014, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a 79-page report titled “I wanted to lie down and die”. The report detailed numerous accounts of torture of Eritrean refugees for ransom in Sinai at the hands of Egyptian traffickers. The report also implicated the Egyptian authorities in facilitating the abuses. The report also contains information concerning traffickers in eastern Sudan.
Before his ouster, former president Mohamed Morsi met with the Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and the Eritrean presidential adviser for political affairs, Yamani Jabr in April 2013, addressing the growing problem of trafficking African refugees through Egyptian territories.
Matters in Sinai cannot be resolved except through the complete control of the government over Sinai and solving its social, security and economic problems, Al-Gammal believes.
“The Egyptian government is marginalising Sinai residents, making them feel they are not part of the nation,” he said.
Such a trust issue must be resolved, or else Sinai will continue to be an incubating environment for illegal activities, with trafficking being the most recent and appearing as a phenomenon in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, fleeing violence in Syria, refugee women are offered for marriage in Egypt in exchange for money. It is an act regarded as human trafficking by Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) in March 2013. “It’s disastrous that female refugees fleeing their warring country would meet such treatment in Egypt,” he had said.
Article 89 of the January 2014 Egyptian constitution, the first one to address the issue of human trafficking, states: “Slavery and all forms of oppression and forced exploitation against humans are forbidden, as is sex trafficking and other forms of human trafficking, all of which are punishable by law.”