Solutions to migration

Al-Ahram Weekly, June 1,2016.
By Doaa El-Bey.

Illegal migration is one of the important challenges facing Egypt today. Given that the committee alone cannot deal with the issue, we believe there must be a joint solution in which the government, civil society, the media and the business community participate,” said Naila Gabr, head of the National Coordinating Committee on Preventing and Combating Illegal Migration (NCCPIM), at a symposium last week in Cairo.
To give an indication of the size of the problem, Gabr said that border police have arrested 3,720 illegal migrants since 18 March this year. Most of these were on their way to Europe, the destination of most illegal migrants, she added.
The committee asked the media to report the problem responsibly. “We need success stories about young people who have managed to find success in their own country,” she said. The alternative, covering stories about the victims of illegal migration or reporting migrant numbers, she said, is contributing to the problem.
“When young people see success stories about illegal migrants, they may be keen to follow suit. But if they read examples of successful young people inside their own country they will think twice before leaving and illegally entering another,” she said.
Hebatallah Al-Semary, a professor at the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University, pointed to the importance of the media in combating illegal migration, not only by discouraging young people, but also by encouraging them to work inside their country and presenting success stories that could be examples to them.
Al-Semary pointed to the ability of social media to address the cultural and psychological motivations that prompt some young people in Egypt to think about leaving their country. She said the present coverage of the issue is superficial and lacks a comprehensive approach.
“Newspapers focus on the news rather than on analysing it and looking at the reasons behind such phenomena. Radio and TV coverage is linked to particular incidents or to shelters in the host countries,” she said.
Too often the media looks at an illegal migrant as a criminal rather than as a victim, she said. She added that social media is the most influential form of media among young people, but that it could be used to attract young people towards illegal migration, especially when used by illegal migration brokers.
A documentary centre gathering articles and programmes written or made about the issue could be useful, she said, since this could identify TV and film documentaries about illegal migration, boosting allegiance to the country via the school curricula and other means.
There is also a role for religion, she said, since this discourages illegal migration and deals with illegal migrants as victims rather than as criminals.
Nasser Musallam, responsible for the illegal migration programme at the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood, pointed to the noticeable increase in children illegally migrating to Europe after 2009 when Italy issued a law banning the return of migrant children to their countries of origin until they were 18 years old.
“In 2009 there were some 15,000 illegal migrants. That had gone up to 80,000 to 90,000 in 2015. Even the age of migrants, earlier mostly over 18, fell to between six and 15 years old,” he said.
He said that his programme aims to improve the living conditions of young people in Egypt to help prevent their migration. It started in Fayoum, he added, in a village where a large number of youth had already migrated to Europe.
“We built a state-of-the-art school that teaches hotel skills and Italian as a second language. It graduates trained young people that can compete in the labour market in Europe,” he said.
However, the school had declined after the 25 January Revolution, he added. But he pointed to further measures that could combat the phenomenon, such as a law targeting brokers and measures aimed at changing the culture in villages that encourage young people to migrate in order to earn money abroad.
Mohamed Al-Kazzaz, a journalist at Al-Ahram who has done research on the issue, said it is a large problem, especially among children. “There are some 10,000 illegal migrant children in Europe who have travelled unaccompanied by their parents, and nearly 7,000 of these are from Egypt,” he said.
“The catastrophe is that only 2,500 of these children are in shelters, while more than 7,000 are in the streets of the host countries and open to all sorts of exploitation.” It is necessary for the media to focus on young people’s success stories in order to curb illegal migration, he added.
The NCCPIM was established in March 2014 to combat the issue and look at measures to encourage young people to stay in the country. It works in collaboration with governmental bodies and civil society organisations.
“We aim to combat illegal migration, especially over the last few years when the number of migrant children has increased,” Gabr said. It documents programmes made about the issue and has contributed to preparing the first study of illegal migration by unaccompanied young people in cooperation with the National Centre for Social and Criminological Studies. The results of the study will be published later this year.
In addition to its documentary role, the NCCPIM also has an information role. “We visit villages that send illegal migrants abroad. We talk to young people, children, families, teachers and others, explaining the dangers of illegal migration,” Gabr added.
However, the NCCPIM sees the law that defines illegal migration and punishes it as one of its most important achievements. “We finished the draft of the law last July and the government ratified it in November. It was reviewed by the State Council and is now waiting for parliament to discuss it. Once passed it will help a lot in combating illegal migration,” Gabr said.
The committee will also launch a media campaign this summer in English and Arabic entitled “Egypt, Your Future” that aims to convince young people that their future is in their country rather than abroad.