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INTERVIEW: IOM Egypt Chief commends efforts to regulate irregular migration

CAIRO – 12 February 2019: Albeit estimations placing the number of immigrants residing within Egypt to be around five million, the United Nation’s International Organization for Immigration (IOM) suggests that this number is well below the actual amount.
“It is estimated that Egypt hosts about 4 million undocumented Sudanese nationals, who live in Egypt for several years, about one million Syrians (including businesspersons), one million Libyans who work in the country for decades, and many Iraqis and Lebanese migrants,” stated the IOM in a 2018 report. This is not to mention those who have been living her for more than one generation, meaning that they have expanded their families and made Egypt their home, explains IOM Egypt’s Chief of Mission, Mr. Laurent De Boeck.
Moreover, despite an international wave against immigrants, statistically speaking, as a wide-array of research has shown, immigrants have a positive effect on the gross domestic product (GDP). Syrian businessmen and women in Egypt contributed $6 billion to GDP between 2015 and 2018, according De Boeck and the IOM’s 2018 paper. The paper also added that only 8,771 migrants registered for support during their stay in the country in 2018, meaning most immigrants reaching Egypt do not actually need financial aid form the state. Still, the IOM helps plenty of individuals return voluntarily to their home country, and run programs to ensure that immigrants and individuals from the host country get along.
To understand more about Egypt’s role in cutting immigration to Europe, Egypt’s geographic importance, the effect of immigrants on the economy and IOM’s efforts to help immigrants but also the host community, Business Today Egypt sat down with Laurent De Boeck, the IOM Egypt’s Chief of Mission, Mr. Laurent De Boeck. has been working with the IOM for about 23 years now, especially in reconstruction and rehabilitation. He has worked with governments to coordinate, rebuild and develop inclusive environments for people to come back to their country. After serving in more than 10 countries, from Indonesia to Côte d’Ivoire, Burundi and Haiti, to Congo, to Libya and Yemen, where he was last stationed, De Boeck came to Egypt a mere few months ago to head the IOM here.
How important is Egypt as a host or transit community? And welcoming are Egyptians to immigrants?
In welcoming the refugees coming from those countries has been significant. For Syria, they have shown interest and have taken measures to make them feel welcome. They are given direct access to medical services and education, given that they are registered with the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugee, to and once the Syrians have received a yellow card, they can have access to all the governmental services for free. This is a very privileged situation for the Syrians.
They also offered refuge and they welcomed the people; this is an indicator of Egypt’s hospitality, which we have seen through the years, in welcoming people in need. Egyptians welcome the people generally and they do contribute to, or to participate in the resolution of the conflict in international platforms in Syria or in Yemen. Also, Egypt is a quite important geographical position. So, when you look at Egypt [and the situation as a whole]: Egypt is becoming a safe space that attracts a lot of people.
So, the role of Egypt is certainly very important in the region, and it serves as such a safe place. Egypt, as I mentioned, already has quite an important number of immigrants. The official statistics is referring to five million people living in the country. It is true that there is certainly five million people, but it very difficult to apprehend; however, we know that there are 58 different nationalities in the country. Now, if you consider some groups—some are not really registered—it might be more than five million.
For a minimum of 20 years, at least, there has been a community from Sudan, there are at about four million people. These came about 20 years ago and they are working or they have established themselves in the country. Libyans are the same; it is estimated one million. So, this is already reaching five million. Then, Syrians are estimated are one million as well. The most accurate number are those who are registered as refugees, which are about 240,000; almost half of them are Syrians. The rest are from many other nationalities. Those are the ones who are registered and have received a card with the UNHCR, but the rest are estimates.
Then, you have smuggling to or through Egypt, which goes without registering. Those who are going through irregular immigration do not really come and register.
How do you help those who are coming to Egypt, as a transit country, and are expected to be resettled by the UN to other countries prepare themselves for their new life?
We have what we call social orientation, we help them understand where they are going, we having training, we help them understand how the society they are going to functions, how they can find a job, how they can integrate, how they can have access to public services—we have a team just for that. We continue developing such programs with the UNHCR and host countries. That is specifically for refugees.
For the migrants, we support them while staying here. For example, it is cold now, so we offer them non-food items, like blankets. Then, we have medical centres and doctors, who can do medical checks and provide them for primary healthcare and if secondary healthcare is needed, we have coordinated with the government for them to go to public hospitals. We also support with housing, or with education for the children. As I said, all those supports for migrants are always done in parallel to Egyptians.
How would you describe Egypt’s efforts in stopping illegal immigration towards Europe?
Egypt is considered a country of origin, a country of transit and a country of destination. Transit because the government of Egypt in 2016 committed to tackle the issue of irregular migration from the North Coast to Europe. So, irregular migrants come here and they realise that it is difficult for them to continue because of the efforts on the North Coast and that the smugglers are changing the process because of these efforts, and then they turn to us for assistance to return. Some smugglers change the process and they turn to Libya, but this is a very reduced number. In 2018, only 250 Egyptians arrived in Europe; it is really few. So, Egyptians have decided not to go to Europe because of the difficulties and because of the efforts by the authorities to tackle the matter. The migrants in the country also do the same; they cross to Libya and then they are helped by smugglers to go to Europe.
They are also a fewer number but what we have noticed is that when there are fewer people, it is more dangerous for them. So, very few are smuggled but those who are more likely to die, meaning we have more deaths in percentages than before. We are working with our colleagues in Libya to tackle this issue.
But there is less departure to Europe thanks to the commitment of the Egypt since 2016.
How does Egypt’s legal framework support its efforts towards tackling human trafficking?
The legal framework in Egypt is actually quite positive on both counter trafficking and counter smuggling. On smuggling, it is one of the most unique in the region; it mentions the protection of the victims, which is very positive and tackles the criminal networks, and there is a lot of communication and coordination between services in Egypt, not only to prevent it but also to protect these people. We have seen in 2018, in particular, Egypt taking measures to tackle these criminal networks. They have arrested people even in the government, who had disrespected the laws, so he government has done a very beautiful example because it is not anywhere in the world that the government announces that they have arrested their own officials because they were suspected of smuggling.
To me, it reflects the commitment of the government. In the last six months of 2018, you find in newspapers the General Prosecutor arresting smugglers and traffickers, in various forms of trafficking cases and smugglers. Everyday, we receive reports and communications about smugglers and traffickers at the border and of people who are suspected of contributing to this. The commitment [by the government] is quite high and efficient, and it has to do with the presence of laws and coordination and the existence of several relevant institutions. There are 34 institutions contributing to the development of sharing information and applying the laws, and they work a lot on sharing information to tackle the networks.
This is important because if you help the victims but do not identify and crack the networks then this will keep happening, but they are tackling the networks and there is a very advanced level and very high commitment in Egypt. Europe looks very positively on the efforts taken by Egypt and they look at ways that they can support Egypt.
It is also important to know that the migration patterns have not changed drastically over the last few years. There has always been movement to Africa and the rest of the world. This was a lot through Egypt before but now it has been cut down. However, if we look at Africa, we see that about 80 percent of movement in Africa is within Africa, except for Northern Africa who look up at Europe due to proximity. We have noticed since the early 2000s that some Africans are going to South Africa, because it is an attractive country, and then to Latin America. They enter through Brazil and then from Brazil to Central America, to North America; several hundreds of thousands a year take this route.



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