Egypt and Illegal Migration


A Brief History

  • According to the Egyptian Society for Migration Studies, the migration of Egyptians to other countries was insignificant until 1974 when the Egyptian Government lifted restrictions on labor migration. This coincided with the launch of major development projects that required skilled laborers in the Arab Gulf States and Libya.
  • With a huge number of employment opportunities available oversees that boasted higher salaries than those offered in Egypt, the number of Egyptians working abroad increased from hundreds of thousands in 1975 to more than 3 million in 1983.
  • The number continued to grow until the Gulf War. After the war, demand for Egyptian labor in the Gulf area decreased due to fierce competition from Asian migrants.
  • During this period of migratory growth, large numbers of Egyptians “temporarily migrated” to gulf countries for work. However, others permanently moved to North America and European countries seeking further economic, social and political freedoms starting in the early 1960s.Egyptian students living abroad often chose to stay in their destination country after it became easier to immigrate to Europe, creating families and networks that helped others from their homeland to emigrate as well.

Geographical Distribution of Illegal Egyptian Migrants

A recent research study conducted by the National Center for Sociological and Criminological Research among Egyptian youth who wish to leave Egypt and illegally migrant to another country identified the 10 governorates that boast the largest number of illegal migrant émigrés. They are: Sharkia, Dakahleya, Qalyoubia, Meofia, Gharbeya, Behera, Kafr El Sheikh, Fayoum, Assiut and Luxor.

Preferred Destinations

Although statistics show that many illegal migrants from Egypt land in Greece and Malta, the destination of choice for most migrants is Italy. This is due to:

  • Italy’s economy, which has fared better than those of Malta and Greece;
  • Italy’s large informal sector provides greater job potential for skilled and unskilled labor performed by migrants;
  • There are several strong networks and communities of Egyptian immigrants in cities such as Milan that are actively working to encourag, sponsor and support family members, friends or people from their villages seeking work and living opportunities in Italy.

The below table showcases the total number of Egyptians that have illegally migrated to Italy over the past three years:

DurationTotal Number of Illegal Egyptian MigrantsTotal Number of Illegal Migrants
January – October 20152,372140,991
January – December 20144,095170,100
January – December 20132,72842,925


Main Drivers/Reasons behind Illegal Migration

Research shows that the main reasons Egyptians illegally migrate to Europe involve seeking out higher paying jobs and improving their living conditions. Many migrants and illegal migrants suffer from poverty, unemployment and challenging economic conditions.

Gaining worthwhile employment that pays a reasonable wage to support a family can be difficult in Egypt, particularly if young people do not have the proper education/vocational training required or are relying on the informal sector for jobs.

It is important to note that some people wishing to leave Egypt and become illegal migrants do not fit this mold. In fact, some of the migrant come from middle class and have access to better paying jobs but they are still hoping to find greater wealth in a shorter period of time working in countries such as Italy. The belief comes from seeing prosperous family members or other émigrés return to Egypt after building wealth abroad.

Dangers and Risks of Illegal Migration:

The path of illegal migrants is fraught with risks and dangers from the moment they begin on their journey. The issues do not necessarily end once migrants arrive at their destination.

The Deadly Trip:

  1. Before they leave, migrants are housed by smugglers in large groups for several days in transit governorates such as Damietta, Alexandria or Behera. The conditions are poor, with migrants living with little access to fresh water, food or air. The migrants are not allowed to talk, make noise or contact their families since they are being held in secret locations away from the eyes of authorities.
  2. Under the cover of darkness, migrants are forced to board vehicles for hours that take them to remote spots along the Mediterranean coast.
  3. If the vehicles are not stopped by authorities or coast guards, the migrants must then begin their trek by sea. They are forced to board small fishing boats or dinghies that are not necessarily seaworthy or safe and are often dangerously overcrowded. Sometimes migrants have to swim to reach their boat. In addition, migrants have reported being injured while trying to board due to darkness and engine hazards.
  4. After sailing away from the coast, migrants are transferred to larger vessels at sea. Most are required to jump, resulting in other injuries or drowning. Again, these larger vessels do not meet safety standards and can be in poor shape. Access to food, water and bathrooms is restricted for the duration of the trip.
  5. Nearing the end of the journey, the vessels are abandoned by their smuggler crews, leaving the migrants to fend for themselves.In the case of stormy weather or rough seas, the boats often capsize or tip before they can be rescued by European coast guards, leading to fatalities. None of the migrants have lifejackets or safety equipment.
  6. International humanitarian groups and agencies have reported that illegal migrants who evade detection by Italian authorities and come to live in Italy illegally face a wide range of human trafficking and exploitive dangers once they arrive. This includes: forced labor, prostitution, drug dealing, indentured servitude and slavery and the involuntary removal of organs.


The Illegal Migration of Egyptian Youth – Research

NCCPIM&TIP has cooperated with the National Center for Social and Criminal Research to prepare an integrated study on the phenomenon of illegal migration of young people in Egyptian society, especially in light of the current developments and the challenges facing the MENA region. This has been done through an analytical descriptive study of the phenomenon that adopts a social, psychological, and legal approach with the aim not only monitoring and analyzing the phenomenon, but also to provide an integrated framework for the prevention of the illegal migration.


You can download the Arabic version of the study from this link, the English version is not available.