INTERVIEW: Ending people trafficking

Doaa El-Bey , Thursday 9 Feb 2023

Naela Gabr, the chairperson of the National Coordinating Committee for Combating and Preventing Illegal Migration and Trafficking in Persons, tells Doaa El-Bey that the key to curbing migration is development



Naela Gabr is chairperson of the National Coordinating Committee for Combating and Preventing Illegal Migration and Trafficking in Persons (NCCPIM&TIP). The 30-strong committee, established in November 2016, leads government efforts to prevent illegal migration.

A career diplomat, Gabr served as Egypt’s ambassador to South Africa from 1999 to 2002 and as permanent representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva and to the World Trade Organisation from 2002 to 2005. In addition to chairing the NCCPIM&TIP, she is the representative of the president of Egypt to the International Organisation of the Francophonie and a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Last month the cabinet declared the establishment of a fund to channel foreign aid and assistance to illegal migrants. The fund, says Gabr, crowns the committee’s work which started with the issuing of Law 82/2016, the first piece of legislation in the Middle East to define the crime of smuggling migrants.

Gabr stresses that combating illegal migration involves not only sanctioning the criminals involved but also helping would-be migrants, and migrants returning to Egypt, to have a decent life. The fund will assist in promoting awareness campaigns, help identify job opportunities for potential migrants and returnees, provide vocational training, help returnees establish new projects and enable illegal migrants to voluntarily return to their countries of origin.

According to Gabr, the smuggling of migrants or trafficking in persons is not just national organised crimes, but they constitute violation of human rights and they are linked to corruption. For that reason NCCPIM was established and the fund was composed.

The NCCPIM&TIP’s role, Gabr says, involves coordinating among all stakeholders working in the field of combating illegal migration. The committee has 30 partners, including ministries and the councils of women, human rights and childhood and motherhood. It has prepared studies on the migration of youth aged between 18 and 34, and on the smuggling of unaccompanied minors, which Gabr says is growing. It has also mapped the governorates which produce the highest numbers of illegal migrants.

Based on the studies and map, the committee prepares awareness campaigns, travelling to different governorates, talking to young people and showcasing local success stories. “In this way we show youth and their families that there are alternatives to illegal migration,” she says.

The committee’s current action plan, explains Gabr, focuses on technical schools and training returnees to help them reintegrate into society.

“We look at our work as a triangle,” she says. “One side is the full implementation of the law, the second awareness and training, and the third is development which is key to preventing people trafficking.”

The NCCPIM&TIP has a long association with traditional handicrafts and organises an annual exhibition under the banner Eshtery Masry (buy Egyptian products). This year it will hold the 10th exhibition. It also works with the Medium, Small, and Micro Enterprises Development Agency, organising annual exhibitions at the Foreign Ministry. This year’s exhibition, in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Solidarity, is scheduled for next month and will include traditional Egyptian crafts.

Illegal migration has subsided, says Gabr, but given it is an underground crime exact figures for illegal migrants are impossible to calculate. The committee estimates numbers by asking missions abroad to provide the number of Egyptians with illegal status and the number of repatriated citizens.

“Migrants often travel to Istanbul, either legally or illegally, and then travel to Europe from Turkey. There are also boats the cross illegally from Libya to Western Europe,” she says.

The majority of Egyptians residing illegally abroad are in Italy, though their number does not exceed 22,000 according to Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard.

Egypt, which used to be a country of origin, transit and destination, is no longer a transit country, and increasingly a country of destination. According to the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), Egypt is home to more than nine million migrants, including four million Sudanese, one million Yemenis, and 1.5 million Syrians.

One of NCCPIM&TIP’s goals is to promote legal tracks for migration. Every time Gabr meets an ambassador from a western European country she asks them about their need for manpower, though she often receives evasive replies. “If they shared their needs with the committee, we could equip the migrants with the language skills and know-how they need before dispatching them,” she says, noting that “former German chancellor Angela Merkel took the decision to open her country to immigrants because Germany was in need of manpower and by doing so boosted the economy.”

While taking that step is not easy because opening any country for migrants could make the people and the constituencies angry, support for training potential migrants is welcome, Gabr said. And that is what she asked the Italian ambassador during their meeting last week.

Gabr cites the Instituto Salesian Don Basco and the Fayoum Advanced Technical School for Hotel Management and Tourism Services as among the most successful examples of Italy’s contribution to training young people in Egypt. The first, based in Shubra, provides technical and vocational training and issues a diploma recognised by European and Egyptian authorities. The second provides vocational training and jobs for young people in Fayoum and other governorates.

Among NCCPIM&TIP’s awareness campaigns Gabr points to a painting competition held last year in two government schools in governorates that have the highest percentage of illegal migration, saying “it is one of the best examples of using art to shed the light on illegal migration.”

The committee cooperated with IOM to supply selected classes with painting kits. Students were then asked to produce a painting on illegal migration. It was, argues Gabr, a success because the whole school, and not just the selected class or classes, became involved in the competition, discussing the issues involved.

The committee has also produced a song highlighting the issues involved in illegal migration that gained more than 10 million likes on social media and promoted an awareness campaign targeting illegal migrants coming from African countries to settle in Egypt. Based on testimonies from people who survived the long and dangerous trip, it is in the four languages of the African Union — Arabic, English, French, and Portuguese — and has been translated into a number of other African languages.

NCCPIM&TIP has a protocol with the Federation of National Organisations and Associations under which NGOs disseminate the committee’s campaign materials.

In terms of capacity building, Gabr says the focus is on training, she explained, and plans are afoot, in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation, to hold workshops for young people on starting a business and accessing work. Following the workshops, a job fair is planned to present available vacancies in Egypt.

The committee has also collaborated with UNICEF to raise awareness among parents and children of the risks of illegal migration and the alternatives available in Egypt.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Short link: