Ambassador Naela Gabr, Secretary-General of Egypt's National Coordinating Committee on Preventing and Combating Illegal Migration (NCCPIM), receives an interview with Xinhua in Cairo, Egypt on December 25, 2016. Naela Gabr said that her country has successfully made a law to curb illegal immigration and human smuggling amid a hike of migrants illegally departing from the North African country to Europe. [Xinhua/Zhao Dingzhe]
An Egyptian official said that her country has successfully made a law to curb illegal immigration and human smuggling amid a hike of migrants illegally departing from the North African country to Europe.
"This law is the first of its kind in the Middle East," Secretary-General of the National Coordinating Committee on Preventing and Combating Illegal Migration (NCCPIM) Ambassador Naela Gabr told Xinhua.
Egypt has become a more common launching point for illegal immigration through its Mediterranean Sea shores to Europe after Libya and Turkey lost their importance for smugglers in favor of the most populous Arab country.
Illegal immigration via Egyptian Mediterranean shores rose over the past few years in attempts to reach Europe and flee difficult economic conditions in the financially-struggling Arab country, where unemployment rate hit 12.5 percent, according to official reports.
"The law punishes people involved in smuggling migrants with prison sentences and financial fines. It does not punish illegal immigrants themselves," the official said.
In October, Egypt's parliament voted for a cabinet bill combating illegal immigration and human-smuggling. The 34-article bill stipulates a penalty of between 50,000 and 200,000 Egyptian pounds (1 U.S. dollar=19 Egyptian pounds) or a prison sentence to anyone who smuggles migrants, attempts to smuggle them, mediates in the smuggling process, or provide any services while aware of the crime.
The law includes a definition of the crime of people-smuggling and various related elements such as smugglers, unaccompanied children, fraudulent travel documents, the types of ship involved and the territorial waters where it occurs.
"A copy of the law has been sent to the African Union as a model to be followed by African countries," Gabr added.
She said that the NCCPIM has set a national strategy to combat illegal immigration in Egypt.
"The first step was to develop a statistical map of the Egyptian governorates with the highest rate of people vulnerable to the risk of illegal migration," she said, adding that such information would place the NCCPIM in a better position to carry out its duties in curtailing the flow of illegal migrants, and targeting both communities at risk and smugglers.
To achieve this purpose, she said, the Committee finalized two field studies on the youth and unaccompanied children under the age of 18.
"They identified the different forms of illegal migration, the driving factors and the demographic characteristics of the Egyptian youth and children migrating illegally," she added.
"Our efforts culminated in the development of the first national strategy (2016-2026) that was agreed upon by all national stakeholders and integrates all economic, societal, political and cultural dimensions of the problem, thus providing solid foundation for a multi-dimensional response to the phenomenon," she revealed.
Under the strategy, Gabr said, a two-year action plan (2016-2018) was developed with implementation and review mechanisms based on verifiable key performance indicators.
The official said that Egypt is also an immigrant-receiving country, adding there is almost a balance between outing and incoming immigrants.
Egypt hosts African, Syrian and Iraqi immigrants, she said, adding that migrants in Egypt are not placed in separated camps.
"They are an integral part of our society, sharing every aspect of life and receiving all essential societal amenities the government provides to their fellow Egyptian nationals," She pointed out.
Gabr also said that the NCCPIM places the highest priority on enhancing regional cooperation, in particular with our African neighbors. The committee is working closely with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on providing capacity building and training programs to African diplomats and officials in the field of administration of justice.
According to Gabr, Italy is the primary destination for most of the illegal immigrants who use Egypt as launching point, while Greece comes in the second place due to its deteriorating economic conditions.
"When receiving countries see that we have achieved a law to combat illegal immigration in less than two years and a half, and that we are already doing our best to stop the flow of migrants, then they should provide funds to enhance this strategy," Gabr stressed.
The official expressed dissatisfaction at the level of regional and international cooperation regarding illegal immigration, saying that the problem of illegal immigration can be countered only by real cooperation and improving the conditions in developing countries as well as solving the political feuds in the Middle East.
"Solving the Libyan and Syrian crises will decrease the illegal immigration. That is why the international community, especially permanent members of the UN Security Council, should reach a settlement to these conflicts," she said.
Gabr said the international support might not be enough to help ease the burden several countries bear to accommodate the growing number of migrants.
"We stand ready to enhance our engagement with international donors and financial institutions to mobilize additional resources for developmental projects with immediate bearing on youth susceptible to illegal migration in Egypt and elsewhere," she said.
The NCCPIM is an inter-ministerial entity bringing together 19 relevant ministries and national human rights agencies, with an institutional structure and a clear mandate to champion and coordinate national efforts to combat and curb illegal migration.
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