Egypt is increasingly becoming a hub for illegal migration to Europe. This is Alexandria, one of the port cities of the Nile Delta. Many migrants and would-be migrants leave from this shore. They take fearful risks to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
They’ve been driven by wars in Syria, Iraq and Darfur to desperation. The UN refugee agency says the number making the attempt, year-on-year, has doubled. Our correspondent went to speak with some who failed. They are kept in a processing centre in Alexandria.
Amera Khalil, from Darfur, who was stopped at sea by Egyptian authorities two weeks ago with her four children, told us: “Nobody helped me in Darfur. Nobody stood by me there. So, I took my children and I came here. I submitted my papers to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights here in Egypt, and I went to their offices several times, but I did not get any help, not even news about my missing husband in Darfur.”
Nagham Rezqallah, Iraqi, also left her husband, in Baghdad. He was ill. She took her children with her.
She said: “I endured this agony, this sea voyage, risking my life and the lives of my children, to be rid of the life of poverty and war in Iraq, and to seek treatment for my son and my husband. But none of these hopes have come true.”
Migrants may be forced to take a deadly gamble.
One terrible example: on 10 September, an illegal migrant ship with 500 on board was deliberately sunk by the smugglers. There were almost no survivors. Those who lived said the traffickers did it because the passengers refused to transfer to an even smaller vessel.
Walaa Albarkawi, Syrian, and her two sons left their home in Damascus with tourist visas one year ago. Her husband, Mohammed Albawab, got on that doomed ship at Damietta, in Egypt, in a bid to reach Europe and later bring his family over. She has not heard from him.
She said: “I phoned the smuggler. He told me my husband had died, and I collapsed. I want to be certain. I want to know what happened to him. I remembered that the smugglers were in arguments about the boat from the beginning. There were lots of problems, and my husband witnessed that conflict between the smugglers themselves.”
The Egyptian authorities recognise there are illegal trafficking rings operating from Egypt. A passenger pays the equivalent of between 1600€ and 3200€.
Syrian refugee Rasha Almasri told us how her money went for nothing: “We stayed at sea for a week, suffering terribly, lived through black days in the middle of the sea. Each day, the smugglers told us ‘we are leaving tomorrow’, and they kept bringing more immigrants to the boat and filled it with more. Eventually the engine broke down and we could not go anywhere. Then an Egyptian warship caught us and brought us here.”
We found a trafficker in Alexandria who agreed to talk to us. Her family owns several fishing boats.
Her name withheld, she explained how they work: “The smuggler goes to another country and buys a boat there, under the guise of fishing. Following what’s called the departure process from that country to another, they stop the boat at sea, in a specific area. Then they start bringing the immigrants out to it. The smugglers come to these places where there are no border guards, and with small boats they take the immigrants to the big boat which is out in the open sea.”
Our correspondent Mohammed Shaikhibrahim summed up: “They left their countries after losing hope for a normal life, and they set their sights for the promised beaches of Europe. But the wind often blows their ships, their wishes, off course, so they end up drowned or missing, or tightly tied up, like their dreams.”