Hundreds of migrants, who lost their lives in the capsized boat tragedy, were the target of scrutiny and attacks, as they were blamed for their own death.
A boat carrying almost 600 people capsized off Egypt’s coast, over 160 people were killed in the latest disaster among migrants trying to reach Europe, reported Aswat Masriya.
The boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea off Burg Rashid, a village in the northern Beheira province. Officials said 31 bodies had been found, 20 men, 10 women and one child.
People seek to travel to Europe searching for better life due to the economic conditions and social injustice in Egypt. However, the government officials and pro regime media personalities questioned teh victims for seeking a better life abroad.
Mohamed Saafan, the Minister of Manpower claimed in a phone in on a talk show on al-Nahar al-Youm channel on that “Egypt is full of jobs in the private sector and it needs its people to build it rather than migrate. I want to tell the youth that we all started small, I personally I used to get 50 EGP a month on my first job.”
The Cabinet spokesperson, Hussam al-Qaweesh, offered his condolences in a phone call to another talk show on CBC channel, but dismissed the idea that economic reasons are what drive people to leave. He said,”Illegal immigration requires a large sum of money, and I see that with that sum any citizen can easily start a project in his village. This can offer him a good income and save him from participating in these smuggling operations.”
Pro regime talk show host- Ahmed Moussa-explained that young men go to Europe aspiring for job opportunities, and will often sell their assets to be able to afford the trip.”But let’s admit there are job opportunities in the country.”
In response, a researcher on migrant movements at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights,Mohamed Kashef explained that the trend of blaming the victim has existed in Egyptian society for a while, at least since 2011.
He said-citing how this rhetoric was used in other incidents of mass violence and crackdown- “Usually with various tragic incidents people pose the question, what brought them here, or why would they go there?”
Kashef points out how much money these migrants actually own and how much it costs to make the trip. The trip can cost anywhere between 18,000 EGP and 30,000 EGP, but the sum is usually paid in installments after the person arrives to the other side of the Mediterranean, he explains.
Kashef argues,”If these migrants were really so privileged, they would have gotten a bank statement and applied for a visa with it to any state abroad. They would not have had to go through all of this.”
He points out that those who end up blaming the victim usually belong to the higher or middle classes, and they are not in the same position as the migrants, “who are the most marginalized classes.”
“So they have no idea what life actually is for them,” he says, “This kind of tone is coming from someone who does not understand.”
Local newspaper Youm7 published an article on Sunday citing seven facts about the crimes of illegal migration.
The article claimed that “terrorist groups exploit some of the young migrants to assign them to commit acts of sabotage and to join terrorist camps.”
Youm7 also argued that the punishments imposed for illegal immigration are futile, “and the young men who try to illegally migrate are seen as victims so we need a legislative revolution from the parliament and harsher penalties.”
While Egyptian media tends to call migrants “illegal,” or “illegitimate,” Kashef argues that most international organizations have shifted to calling them “irregular migrants” instead.
He added,”That way we are saying that traveling is illegal when in fact it is a human right. It is just alternative traveling, and by using this terminology we imply that what they were doing was a criminal act, when in fact they were the victims.””
In addition, Kashef sees two things as particularly shocking in this incident. First, he said,”is that for the first time in a long time entire Egyptian families were leaving, they weren’t just sending their sons to be able to have a better life here, they were escaping their entire lives here.”
The second, is that this incident happened on domestic waters, “usually when boats drown this happens in the middle of the Mediterranean and not so close to the shores.”
Kashef said also that the situation were worse for Sudanese and other African migrants who are locked in the refrigerators of the ships, where the fishermen keep their fish.
But the social media users have called the migrants “lazy,” and “barbarians,” and claimed that they “don’t want to work, and don’t have any values.”
“You should die in the middle of the sea and not get even get buried in Egypt. At least the congestion will ease a bit and the lazy ones that hurt the economy will leave more space for others,” one user said.
On the other hand, Kashef, who has been researching the Rashid tragedy said that one of the migrants explained his choices, saying “nobody throws themselves at death unless they’re escaping another death.”
An Egyptian fisherman, Mohamed Nasrawy, also said he knew seven people on the shipwrecked vessel, two of whom were still missing. He made an abortive effort to travel to Greece a year ago.
But despite the disastrous accident, he said “Look how this incident has shocked people, but tonight more people are going to set sail.”
“The poverty that they are living in is what is pushing them. Although we are not Europeans, they take good care of people, while our country doesn’t.”
Recently, Egypt has become one of the dangerous spots used by migrants to sneak to European borders. Bigger boats are increasingly setting out from Egypt for sea voyages of up to 10 days toward Italy, as the EU, NATO and Turkish coast guard tighten controls in the Aegean Sea. The coastline near the port city of Alexandria is a preferred jumping off point.
In Egypt, smugglers often use old fishing boats for the long journey to Italy. Many passengers are crammed below deck, with little chance of surviving if the boat sinks.
The tragedy is part of a growing human trafficking problem in Egypt.The Egyptian government has failed in resolving this phenomena that threatens the hundreds of lives daily. According to UN data,” thousands of people have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean, with nearly 3,000 dead or missing in the first eight months of this year.”