Egypt's cabinet approved Wednesday a draft law that aims to combat illegal immigration and stipulates heavy fines and hard labour prison sentences to those who smuggle illegal immigrants out of the country.
The draft law stipulates a penalty between LE50,000 (around $6,000) and 200,000 (around $25,000) or a prison sentence, without specifying the duration, to anyone who smuggles illegal immigrants, attempts to smuggle them, or mediates in the smuggling process.
Another article stipulates hard labour sentences and a fine between LE200,000 (around $25,000) and LE500,000 (around $63,000) if suspects started, managed, held a position in or was a member of an organised group that aims to smuggle illegal immigrants.
This penalty also applies to smugglers in possession of a weapon, or if the smuggler is a public employee, or had previous felonies.
A life sentence is reserved to smugglers who aim to execute a terrorist attack by smuggling illegal immigrants, or if the smuggling caused the death of an illegal immigrant or resulted in a disability, or if women and children were among the immigrants, or if fake documentations were used to create new identities for the immigrants.
The law would go into effect after ratification by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who currently holds legislative powers in the absence of a parliament, or it will be discussed first by the new parliament, which is expected to hold its first sessions before the end of this year.
In recent years, thousands of Egyptians have attempted to cross the Mediterranean in search of better work opportunities, with hundreds facing arrest when attempting to reach southern European shores in Italy or Greece.
More than two hundred and fifty thousand migrants from various countries in the Middle East and around the world have sought to cross the Meditteranean sea from north African shores - including Libya, Tunisia and Egypt - to European lands in 2015. Thousands have died during perilous trips organised by networks of dubioussmugglers. European governments have said they were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the migration wave, and have seeked cooperation from north African countries to stem the tide.
Last May, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Schteinmeier visited Cairo to address the illegal immigration crisis with President El-Sisi.
Schteinmeier said Egypt urgently needed to protect and monitor its borders.
In September, during a cabinet reshuffle, a new post of minister of immigration in Egypt was created to combat illegal immigration.