The spokesperson for Egypt’s Armed Forces issued a statement announcing that troops arrested 398 migrants along the country’s western and southern borders from February 21 to March 13.
Over the course of three weeks, 369 migrants were arrested in Egypt’s western military region in the area around the Salloum border crossing with Libya, with 29 migrants arrested within Egypt’s southern military region by the Red Sea coastal town of Shalateen, which borders Sudan.
The migrants were of a number of different nationalities, and were involved in “infiltration and illegal migration” to or through Egypt, the statement added.
Likely involving some of the aforementioned migrants, the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper reported on Monday that Egyptian border guards had arrested 99 individuals – 10 Sudanese nationals, one Bangladeshi national and 88 Egyptian nationals – while thwarting an “attempt to infiltrate” the Libyan border via desert paths south of the town of Salloum.
The defendants were held in custody as formal charges were filed against them, Al-Ahram explained, adding that they their cases had all been referred to office of the Prosecutor General.
A countless number of migrants, Egyptians included, have crossed or attempted to cross the Libyan border in recent years, in hopes of traveling across the Mediterranean Sea (typically through human trafficking networks and smugglers) to the shores of southern Europe.
Mohamed al-Kashef, a specialist in migration affairs at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told Mada Masr that the typical process of dealing with migrants who enter the country without the required documents is as follows: “They are arrested, then held in a police station or army detention center, referred to prosecution, and investigated by the National Security Agency.”
“It is the National Security Agency which determines whether they will be allowed to stay in Egypt or be deported,” Kashef explained, adding that most foreign migrants are eventually released from detention.
Egyptians seeking to migrate to southern Europe through boats departing from Egyptian shores, or crossing the Libyan border, are usually sentenced to imprisonment or fined, he added.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 4,600 migrants and refugees were arrested in Egypt in 2016, primarily around the Nile Delta. The UNHCR added that Egypt’s Armed Forces helped rescue at least 150 individuals stranded at sea while attempting migration.
Egypt’s Ministry of Defense has cited that over 6,000 individuals (including Egyptians and foreigners) have been arrested for attempting illegal migrations.
Kashef explained that, while there is a lack of accurate or up-to-date figures, at least 109 undocumented migrants were held in detention centers in 2016.
Egyptians tend to illegally cross the border with Libya (usually around the Salloum crossing point) either seeking employment opportunities in light of high unemployment rates and the difficult economic situation in Egypt, he said, or for attempted migration to Europe.
“In 90 percent of the cases, migrants under 18 try to embark on boats to Europe. Egyptians over 18 usually cross the border illegally in hopes of finding employment in Libya,” he stated.
“Despite all the difficulties and dangers in Libya, migrants are willing to risk their wellbeing to end up in Italy,” he explained, pointing out that Italy and other European states are legally obliged to accept unaccompanied minors as asylum seekers or refugees. European states may turn back undocumented migrants who are aged 18 or above, unless they arrive from conflict zones, “which is why nearly all migrants claim that they have embarked on their journeys from the shores of Libya, even if they have done so from Egypt.”
If foreign undocumented migrants who cross into Egypt are not arrested, then may seek asylum or refugee status via the UNHCR, Kashef stated. Some use these registrations as a backup strategy, until they attempt to journey out of Egypt. Other use Egypt as a transit point to Europe, but nearly none seek to settle in Egypt on a long-term basis.
The vast majority of undocumented migrants departing for southern Europe do so from Libya, due to geographic proximity and the country’s security vacuum, although large numbers also do so from Egypt’s northern coasts, particularly from the Nile Delta.
Egypt has largely closed its border with Libya to non-essential travel since early 2015, but allows Egyptian expatriates to return home. Several hundred thousand Egyptians had been employed in oil-rich Libya in previous decades.
Kashef added that sub-Saharan African migrants tend to enter Egypt from Halayeb and Shalateen by the southeastern border with Sudan, while many Egyptian and foreign migrants seek to cross the border into Libya in hopes of crossing the Mediterranean Sea and landing in Europe.
The vast majority of these migrants, asylum seekers and refugees end up on the shores of southern Italy, particularly in Sicily.
According to figures from the European Union, 181,436 undocumented migrants arrived in Italy over the course of 2016, while 4,579 individuals were reported to be dead or missing at sea.
2016 saw the highest numbers of irregular migration to Italy, as well as highest number of fatalities associated with this form of migration.