Illegal Migration of Egyptian Unaccompanied Children



Unaccompanied migrant children, as defined in Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 20 November 1989 (CRC), are children who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so. A child is a person below the age of 18 years.

Data shows that the number of Egyptian unaccompanied children who illegally make their way to Europe and Italy has grown steadily since 2007. According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM), in 2014 Italy reported 4000 illegal Egyptian migrants had arrived on its shores. Some 2000 comprised unaccompanied children. The percentage increased a small amount during the first six months of 2015, with the number of unaccompanied migrant children comprising 62% of the aggregate from Egypt.

Unlike adults, unaccompanied children cannot be repatriated from Italy according to the Child Protection Law, the Immigration Law as well as the Italian legislations and therefore, children are allowed to remain in Italy unless they voluntarily decide to return to Egypt. In addition, Italian law currently allows children to stay legally in the country and acquire citizenship after they are 18 years old. However, to qualify, each child must permanently reside in Italy for three years and complete a two-year social integration program during that period. This means, in order to stay, they must arrive by the age of 15. This law is one of the main factors encouraging parents to send their children to Italy, even at the risk of their lives. Some parents falsely believe that they too will receive citizenship if their child is able to do so under the program.

Geographical Distribution and Preferred Destinations

Unaccompanied migrant children come from the same governorates that adult migrants come from, including Sharkia, Dakahleya, Qalyoubia, Menofia, Gharbeya, Behera and Kafr El Sheikh in the Delta region and Fayoum, Assiut and Luxor in Upper Egypt. Irregular migration of Egyptian children is strongly situated in the age group of from 14 to 17 years between childhood and adulthood. All children interviewed by IOM originate from the south-western and northern parts of Egypt, in particular Gharbia (31) and followed by Sharkeya (10), Minya (8), Monufia (5), Beheira (5) and others (Figure 1). Irregular migration of Egyptian minors is therefore mainly related to shabab or young men who come from rural areas where social mobility is weak.

Figure 1: Number of interviewed UMCs per governorate of origin (n = 76)


Source: IOM, Egyptian Unaccompanied Migrant Children, 2016.

Italy is also the destination of choice for children. In addition to pull factors such as the existence of large Egyptian networks and communities across Italy and potential jobs in the informal sector, the possibility of acquiring Italian citizenship is the main reason why children, or more preciously their parents, target Italy. The most popular destinations are Sicily and Milan.

Main Drivers/Reasons behind Illegal Migration of children

Children are often pushed by their parents or other family members to illegally migrate to Italy to provide for their families’ needs. The majority of children interviewed as part of studies or investigative reports by media say their decision to migrate was primarily to enhance their living conditions and finance their families back home. Any money earned by the teens would be sent to Egypt to cover a variety of things, including dowries for female relatives and tuition for siblings.

Given the poor and marginalized economic background of children from the respective governorates of origin, many children are forced to drop out of school to support the subsistence of their families. In this regard, over 9 per cent of Egyptian children are involved in child labour, and many children from rural areas perceive themselves as “breadwinners” for their families. Among the sample interviewed in Greece, 85 per cent of all UMCs cited job opportunities as a driving force for irregular migration to Europe.

The quality of Egypt’s education system is another influencing factor in a child’s decision to migrate. Children migrating from rural areas regularly report overcrowded classrooms and outdated teacher-centred teaching methods as characteristic of Egypt’s education system. Limited access to education then inhibits employment prospects outside the agricultural sector and blue-collar work. Migration to Europe is thus perceived to provide Egyptian children with the opportunity to receive additional and higher-quality secondary education, and 32 per cent of interviewed UMCs stated lack of access to education services as a specific reason to migrate (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Factors that motivate UMCs to leave Egypt


Source: IOM, Egyptian Unaccompanied Migrant Children, 2016.

As described above, the ability to financially support one’s family is a crucial aspect for a child’s decision to migrate irregularly and oftentimes taken in consultation with their parents and relatives. Children are willing to face the risks of illegal migration due to encouragement from parents, relatives, members of Egyptian communities in Italy and peers, all of whom view life in Italy as an opportunity to amass wealth. Migrant smugglers looking to take advantage of families often play a major role in convincing parents. While children’s decision to migrate is commonly depicted in terms of household pressure, the vast majority of interviewed children (91%) stated they have taken the decision to migrate by themselves. Only 32 per cent stated that their decision was taken or influenced by their families, and 9 per cent by friends. The large degree of perceived individual choice is however informed by peers who have successfully migrated to Europe, as reflected by the 65 per cent of UMCs who reported peer pressure as a migratory driver. Through social media, children can observe how their peers’ standard of living has improved, serving as role models who have fully realized their dreams. In addition, migration successes are clearly visible in villages of rural Egypt, where families of children who are now living in Europe benefit from the remittances. These families are then able to refurbish their houses and afford a better standard of living. Consequently, the contrast between a lack of perspectives for self-realization in Egypt and the ability to meet personal aspirations in Europe serves as a decision-making factor, and induces children to emigrate irregularly.

Figure 3: Decision-making influencers for UMCs to migrate irregularly


Source: IOM, Egyptian Unaccompanied Migrant Children, 2016.

Italian System for Protecting Children

According to the Italian Legislative Framework, a child is the responsibility of the Italian government if he or she is for any reason within the territory of the State and does not have assistance or representation from parents or other legally responsible adults.

UMCs cannot be expelled and are entitled to the following rights: 1) Residence Permit, 2) Accommodation in a Safe Place, 3) Guardianship, 4) Non-Discrimination, 5) Healthcare, 6) Education and 7) Specific Protection Measures.

  • Once detained in Italian territory, UMCs have to be referred to relevant child protection services and placed in accommodation facilities (primary reception – 60 / max. 90 days). Social Services officials take the following steps:
    1. Meet and interview the child and collect data such as name, age, country of origin;
    2. Notify the Juvenile Court of the child’s presence (to proceed with the appointment of the child’s legal guardian);
    3. Initiate, upon coordination with Police Headquarters and the child’s legal guardian, procedures for the issuance of a residence permit;
    4. Initiate the child’s identification procedures.
  • During the second stage, UMCs should be accommodated within the Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR) system. This is when relevant authorities create a sustainable, long-term life plan to help the child transition to living in Italy. In order to promote UMCs integration, specific economic resources are allocated to be invested in their education and job insertion.
  • The provision of permanent residence permits when the child turns 18 years old is based on one of the two below options:
    1. Upon provision of evidence attesting that the child has successfully completed the integration path including three years of residence in Italy and completion of the two-year social integration program.
    2. Upon positive feedback/authorization issued by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (MoLSP) for those who have not completed the two-year social integration program and have not resided in Italy for at least three years.

Dangers and Risks of Illegal Migration:

The risks and dangers of illegal migration are the same for both adults and children including the difficult journey from their country of origin. The negative impact on children, however, is often more severe since they are inherently vulnerable.

Risks in Italy: Research On The Illegal Migration Of Unaccompanied Children In Egyptian Society

Once they arrive, UMCs from Egypt are targets for exploitation for a number of reasons listed below, especially if they escape the migrant centers.

  • Often these children do not know their rights or how they are protected under Italian law. The only information available to them is provided by their fellow countrymen. Often they will have to pay adults to accompany them to social services appointments, police stations or court. They may also need to do so in order to get an appointed guardian. Sometimes youth can choose a guardian that will exploit them.
  • Unaccompanied migrant children are also at particular risk of exploitation due to the cost of the migratory journey. This means they may be exploited in poor or inhumane working conditions to pay back their smugglers or sponsors.
  • They could also be pressed into other human trafficking activities including prostitution, drug dealing, indentured servitude/slavery or the involuntary removal of organs.


Research On The Illegal Migration Of Unaccompanied Children In Egyptian Society

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 unaccompanied children in Egyptian society, especially in light of the current developments and the challenges facing the MENA region.

In this context, the study sought to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Identify the dimensions of the phenomenon of illegal migration of the UMCs in Egypt.
  2. Classify the economic/social conditions and the basic services provided in the villages of high percentage of illegal migration of UMCs.
  3. Identify the causes of illegal migration of children.
  4. Propose and recommend solutions to combat and prevent the illegal migration of the UMCs.


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