An Egyptian court has sentenced 56 people to prison terms of up to 14 years over a boat that capsized last year, killing more than 200 on board.
On 21 September, 2016, the incident occurred off the Egyptian coast and about 170 passengers were rescued.
The boat sank in the Mediterranean off Burj Rashid, a village in Beheira province, northern Egypt, where the sea and Nile river meet.
Egyptians, Sudanese, Eritreans and Somalis were on the boat that was believed to be heading for Italy.
In fact, fifty-seven people faced charges that included causing the accidental death of 202 passengers, not using sufficient rescue equipment, endangering lives, receiving money from the victims, hiding suspects from the authorities and using a vessel without a licence. Only one woman was acquitted by court.
In response, the Egyptian public criticized the court’s verdict against the defendants and they held the Egyptian authorities as well as the coastguards the responsibility for the accident.
In the same context, activists on the social media noted that Egyptian coastguards in the Egyptian armed forces were responsible for the boat sinking especially that the Egyptian army spokesman said in a statement after the accident that the coastguards “have succeeded in thwarting an illegal immigration attempt”.
Egypt’s parliament passed legislation, a month after the boat sank, which set out prison terms and fines for those found guilty of smuggling migrants and refugees, acting as brokers or facilitating journeys.
It is worth to mention that last year, a record, documented by aid agencies, showed that 5,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean. In April 2016, about 500 adults and children died in one incident when a fishing boat capsized .
A year ago, Turkey and EU reached an agreement that aims to reduce the number of migrants and refugees attempting to travel from Turkey to Greece,.
Since the agreement, most sea crossings have taken the more dangerous route from north Africa to Italy.
In Libya, people traffickers have operated with relative ease, but many migrants and refugees also depart from Egypt.