Standort: / Meldung: "The closure of the West Balkans route for refugees. "

Steve Crilley

God, what's happening in the world! A reality check on the web.

19. 4. 2016 - 16:25

The closure of the West Balkans route for refugees.

Karim El-Gawhary reports on the Egyptian route and why it’s almost impossible for European naval operations to arrest any people smugglers from Egypt.

“When it comes to hunting people smugglers (in charge of boats sailing from Egypt), the only ones European authorities are likely to get are Egyptian schoolboys!”

According to media reports, up to 400 people, mainly from Somalia, were on board at least one boat when it ran into difficulties near the Egyptian coast. They were reportedly trying to reach Italy. Egyptian, Italian and Greek officials have been unable to confirm these accounts, although the Italian coastguard did say that six bodies had been recovered from a vessel near the Libyan coast yesterday and that 108 people had been rescued from a rubber dinghy.

Karim El-Gawhary has been to one particular coastal village in Egypt where smuggling operations are taking place.

Steve Crilley: Now that the west Balkan route has been effectively closed down with wire fences and political deals at south-eastern borders, to what extent is Egypt becoming a dangerous new entry point into Europe for refugees?

Karim El-Gawhary:Syrian refugees can get visas to Egypt, so (first of all) they are flying from Lebanon to Khartoum in Sudan. Then, they walk through the desert for four days. They emerge in the southern Egyptian city of Aswan and then they go by train or by car up to the Mediterranean coastline. It’s at this point where they meet the smugglers who will try to bring them to Italy. We also have a lot of refugees here from Eritrea and Somalia making a similar journey. This route is becoming more popular since the Western Balkan route has closed and Libya (further to the west) presents many difficulties with dangers, so Egypt is indeed becoming an attractive point of entry into Europe.

You recently went to an Egyptian coastal village to find out more. What did you learn about smuggling operations here?

Basically, this was a village near the mouth of the Nile Delta. And a huge part of the village was involved in the smuggling business. It always seems to take on the same form. Those in charge of the smuggling operations, roaming through certain coffee shops where it is known that there are a lot of Syrians or Africans who want to get to Europe. The smugglers promise that they can help them. The route from Egypt will take the refugees along the coastline of Libya and then up to Italy, it costs around 3,000 to 3,500 dollars per person. The refugees agree a price, then normally they would get a phone call to tell them where they have to gather. They are brought in a bus to some kind of safe house somewhere on the coast and finally they are put on a small boat, taken to a bigger boat that goes along the Libyan coast and finally turns towards Italy.

What’s the set-up on the boats?

The smugglers that are active on the boats are interesting because the thing here is that they (the ones in control of the boats at sea) are normally school-kids; Egyptian boys under the age of 18 and that has a purpose. If they get caught in the water or in Italy, they know that they will not be sent to prison. They will also be treated as victims and sent to school in Italy and they’ll get refugee status as well. It means that this whole European attempt to hunt smugglers in the Mediterranean, (with gunships and naval operations) when it comes to the boats that come from Egypt, most likely the only people they can get are Egyptian schoolboys!

Hear more on the report that Karim El-Gawhary gave Reality Check, when he spoke on Tuesday April 19th at 12 midday.

The Egyptian route across the Mediterranean