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Gulf News - December 5, 2009

by Ramadan Al Sherbini

Fayoum Mahmoud Sadik, a commerce school graduate, is not discouraged by his failed journey more than a year ago to illegally enter Italy during which he "saw death with my eyes". "Together with 50 others, we were crammed as though in a sardine tin aboard a rickety boat without enough water and food. The boat started to sink, but we were rescued by a passing ship, whose crew handed us over to the Libyan authorities," Sadik, 21, recalls. "We were taken back to Libya where we were imprisoned for two months before being deported to Egypt," he told Gulf News in an interview. According to him, each would-be immigrant gave a local broker LE30,000 (Dh20,205) to help them sneak into Italy via Libya. Against all the odds, Sadik has no second thoughts about attempting to go to Italy. "I am doing seasonal jobs here, which earn me a pittance," he said. "Many inhabitants in my village have already managed to make it to Italy where they have rewarding jobs. They send to their parents a lot of money to buy land and build luxury houses," added Sadik. "I would not hesitate to leave if I got the chance. Staying here means I would not be able to get married and have a family of my own." Sadik is an inhabitant of Tatoun, a small village in Fayoum in southern Egypt where more than 6,000 of its 40,000 population are believed to be in Italy, according to the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation. No wonder, the town is known as the Milan of Fayoum. High joblessness rates and dreams of landing lucrative jobs abroad have prodded thousands of young Egyptians to take the risk of travelling aboard shipwrecks to Europe. In October, 2007, around 30 young Egyptians drowned off Italian coasts, a tragedy that prompted the Egyptian authorities to toughen penalties against human traffickers and illegal migration brokers. According to a recent official report, the unemployment rate in Egypt, a country of 80 million, reached 9.26 per cent in the third quarter of 2009 against 9.42 per cent in the second quarter of the same year. The report, released by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, a state-run institution, said the nation's labour force rose to 25.2 million during the same period. In early November, Egypt said there were around 2.34 million people out of jobs. Opposition and independent sources, however, believe that the unemployment rates are much higher. "To get a good job in this country, you must have friends in high positions," said Sadik. "In addition, Cairo is where the government is located and where there may be some jobs. Instead of seeking a job in Cairo in return for a handful of pounds, I'd better to go to Italy to make really good money." Sadik and his like are the target of a recent campaign launched by the Egyptian government and the Italian embassy in Cairo. The "Challenge Yourself, Don't Challenge the Sea" campaign is aimed at raising awareness about advantages of legal migration and helping young Egyptians gain professional and linguistic skills. "We are co-operating with the Egyptian government to find practical solutions to the problem of illegal migration especially by minors," Italian Ambassador in Egypt Claudio Pacifico told a recent meeting. "These minors fall victim to brokers who exploit their need to find work. They may be forced into prostitution or suffer other abuses." The Italian government plans to set up a school in the Egyptian village of Tatoun to provide young locals with technical and vocational skills. "We aim at finding alternatives for young Egyptians so that they would stay with their families and be educated and trained to get jobs in their own country," said Mushira Khattab, the Egyptian Minister of Family and Population.

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