Egypt’s ailing economy is driving many down the perilous migration path

  • Migrants catch boats from Libya to Italy
  • The number has risen sharply since 2020
  • Egyptians struggling with unprecedented inflation
  • The EU funds border controls

MIT SUHAYL, Egypt, Oct 6 (Reuters) – Waleed El-Dekwi found his plumbing skills weren’t enough for his family in Egypt’s northern Nile Delta region. Europe.

In June, a tugboat sank a few miles off the Greek coast, drowning hundreds of people aboard, among them Egyptians who are crossing in growing numbers as Egypt’s economy collapses. A few survived, but Tekwi disappeared without a trace among many on board.

„He couldn’t provide for his children, he was in debt,” father Mohamed El-Dekwi, 32, told Reuters in his village of Mid Suhail, where poorly built red-brick houses are occupied. in the surrounding fields.

Not just a plumber. „Young people ran away,” said his father, who encouraged each other to find better-paying jobs, avoiding „higher prices every day” at home.

Egypt’s inflation has hit record highs, a currency slump, unemployment and a debt-laden government curbing spending have prompted a growing number of Egyptians to head abroad in hopes of finding work.

More than 8,000 of those arriving by boat to Italy — the trawler on which Waleed el-Dekwi was traveling and the intended destination for several other ships — have declared themselves Egyptians so far this year, data from the Italian interior ministry show.

In 2022, it was 20,542, more than any other national who reached Italy that year. Those figures compare to just 1,264 in 2020. Asylum requests by Egyptians have also risen, the Italian ministry said.

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The increase in the number of people leaving Egypt in recent years coincides with Egypt’s poor economy. The pandemic has hit Egypt’s main tourism industry and the war in Ukraine has put investors at greater risk, driving them away from Egyptian markets. Economists say Egypt has also been hit by rising debt caused by heavy government spending on mega projects, including the new capital.

Minibus to Libya

Egyptian authorities have largely stopped migrant boats from leaving Egypt’s northern coast since 2016. But those who want to leave have found other ways.

Relatives of the migrants – easily found in northern towns and villages such as Mid Suhail – now want to leave for neighboring Libya, an oil producer that was once a desirable place to work but no longer offers the same attraction. Must be after a decade of conflict.

The chaos in Libya since the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, however, has allowed people-trafficking to flourish. More migrant boats now depart from eastern Libya, near Egypt, than from the west in the divided nation.

Minibuses make their way to the Libyan border to pick up migrants. Usually, it is left to families who hand over the money once the migrant crosses the Egyptian border to pay the $4,540 bill for the trip to Europe.

„You ride to Libya and you are well received. But after the payment, the treatment changes,” said Adel Khannam, 25, a carpenter from 19-year-old Mid Suhail. The brother also caught the ill-fated trawler that sank in June.

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His brother Mohammad was learning how to repair mobile phones, earning a meager income from a cake shop. But he decided to follow his three cousins ​​to Italy.

’Countries in Crisis’

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and other Egyptian officials say Egypt is doing what it can to stem the flow of migrants. But they say Egypt’s resources are strained to host millions of foreigners, including more than 300,000 people who have fled the war in Sudan since April.

Nayla Khabr, the Egyptian government’s chief of staff to combat illegal immigration, said the economic crisis in the Middle East was pushing more people to make the dangerous journey.

When asked about the increasing number of people leaving Egypt for Europe, he said: „We are surrounded by countries in crisis … it is good that the number is not higher than that.”

The European Union has funded border controls in Egypt, saying the lack of economic opportunities and climate change in the largely desert country of 104 million people will cause the flow of migrants to rise in the long term.

When 19-year-old Mustafa Abdel Salam left his home on the edge of the Nile Delta, he told his family he was looking for work in Libya. But he also joined those trying to cross the sea.

„He made this trip because of hardship, he couldn’t find any work,” said his sister Hala, whose brother was also on the trawler that sank off the Greek coast and disappeared without a trace.

„It’s not a perfect life we’re living,” he said. „People are dying slowly.”

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($1 = 30.8500 Egyptian pounds)

Additional reporting by Nafisa Eltahir; Written by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Edmund Blair

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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