“Migration is nothing to be afraid of,” said Ylva Johansson, the European Union (EU) Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. It is something “that we need to manage together with partner countries” like Egypt, she added.
Johansson said that Egypt was a very important and reliable partner for the EU and that the parties have been cooperating for many years to prevent illegal migration.
In a meeting with Egyptian media outlets on Monday night, Johansson said that the EU and Egypt are discussing increased funding and broader cooperation in areas related to migration management, such as preventing irregular arrivals in EU countries.
“Lives are being lost in illegal migration, and about 90 per cent of those arriving in European countries illegally are paying smugglers, who are often part of organised crime groups, to facilitate the process for them,” Johansson said.
She stressed that Egypt has been successful in preventing illegal departures and irregular migration, adding that the EU would like to continue cooperating with Egypt in that regard while increasing opportunities for legal pathways to EU countries and the reintegration of returnees.
“Many European countries need a lot of skilled labour in different areas,” she said.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri discussed ways of advancing cooperation with the EU on migration with Johansson on Monday. The two officials launched on Monday the third Egypt-EU Migration Dialogue and agreed on the need to combat trafficking and smuggling of human beings as well as to create paths for legal migration to the EU based on the EU’s needs for skilled Egyptian workers, according to Ahmed Hafez, spokesperson of Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.
Shoukri stressed the importance of finding legal means for migrants to migrate and of providing aid for refugees as solutions to illegal migration.
Johansson also met with Nabila Makram, Egypt’s minister of state for emigration and expatriate affairs, on Monday and discussed ways to deepen cooperation in order to encourage legal emigration and the reintegration of returnees.
According to a press statement, Makram and Johansson agreed on the importance of implementing programmes to qualify Egyptian workers to work in European markets and the EU’s involvement in training programmes for Egyptian workers in Europe to help meet the needs of the Egyptian market.
In regard to threats posed by climate change to the migration of vulnerable communities, Johansson told Al-Ahram Weekly that climate change threats were real and already happening.
“One of these threats means that some people might not be able to live in their habitat due to extreme weather events, such as droughts, wildfires, and floods, which might lead some areas to even disappear completely,” Johansson stressed.
She added that this could force people to migrate, which might cause problems in other areas in a “domino effect”.
About six million refugees and migrants live in Egypt and enjoy similar services to those provided to Egyptians.
Egypt has stepped up its efforts since 2016 to deal with illegal migration within the framework of its commitment to international conventions. It has been putting in place the legislative framework to combat the smuggling of migrants.
In 2016, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi launched Egypt’s first national strategy to combat illegal migration, and Law 82 of 2016 set out penalties criminalising all forms of migrant smuggling in addition to combating the activities of those involved in such acts.
The Illegal Migration Act approved by parliament sets out penalties for those who smuggle illegal migrants, something that used to claim the lives of hundreds of Egyptian young people on an annual basis.
Article 6 of the law stipulates that whoever commits, attempts, or is involved in the crime of smuggling migrants shall be punished with imprisonment and a fine ranging from LE200,000 to LE500,000.
In 2019, Egypt launched its “lifeboats initiative” on migration in order to provide job opportunities in villages seeing significant levels of illegal emigration, with LE250 million allocated to support and implement it in 70 villages across the country.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly