New legislation in Egypt toughens penalties on ‎migrant traffickers

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 28 Sep 2016

People gather on the quay as a wreck of a migrant boat raised by the Egyptian navy and maritime rescuers arrives in the Egyptian port city of Rosetta on September 27, 2016. (AFP)

Three parliamentary committees approved in an ‎urgent meeting on Tuesday night legislation ‎aimed at stemming the tide of illegal migration.

‎The meeting, which comes a few days after a ‎migrant boat capsized off Egypt's Mediterranean ‎coast, was headed by chairman of the Legislative ‎and Constitutional Affairs Committee Bahaaeddin ‎Abu Shoqa. It also included members of the ‎human rights and budget committees.‎

The meeting also came after President ‎Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi held an urgent national ‎security meeting on Saturday to discuss the ‎possibility of issuing a unified law aimed at ‎toughening penalties for those involved in human trafficking and illegal migration operations.‎

On 21 September, the migrant boat, which was ‎carrying between 450 and 500 migrants, ‎sunk as it sailed for Italy from Egypt's Mediterranean port city of ‎Rosetta.

The death toll ‎from the accident reached 195 on Tuesday. ‎

On Sunday, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs ‎Magdi El-Agati said in a press conference that a ‎new bill including tougher penalties on illegal ‎migration was submitted to parliament last June, ‎‎"but discussions were delayed because parliament ‎had a very busy agenda." ‎

Abu Shoqa told reporters on Tuesday that "when ‎the bill on illegal migration was sent to parliament ‎last June it was approved in principle by the ‎legislative and constitutional affairs committee, ‎though we did not discuss it article by article ‎because we gave priority to the church ‎building bill."‎

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al told reporters ‎Tuesday that "in all probability the new bill on ‎illegal migration will be discussed in a plenary ‎session when parliament reconvenes on 4 October."‎

In the meeting on Tuesday night, Abu Shoqa ‎stressed that the 33-article draft bill does not ‎impose penalties on migrants themselves.

‎‎"The bill views them as victims of illegal activity. ‎The bill is humanitarian in that sense and aims to ‎extend help to them," said Abu Shoqa. "However, it will ‎impose penalties on families who approve letting ‎their members join illegal migration operations."‎

The draft law states that "members of criminal ‎gangs that traffic migrants will face fines between EGP 50,000 and EGP 500,000 and prison ‎sentences ranging from six months to life ‎imprisonment."‎

An explanatory note attached to the bill explains ‎that an anti-illegal migration fund will be set up to ‎help victims. The fund will be under the purview of ‎the prime minister and will begin operating on 30 June ‎‎2017.‎

The bill also establishes a national anti-illegal ‎migration and human trafficking commission that ‎will include representatives from all concerned ‎ministries and research centres.

It will provide ‎training on how to combat illegal migration and ‎operate a unit to document progress in combating ‎the phenomenon. The unit will be affiliated with the ‎ministry of foreign affairs.‎

According to Article 3 of the new bill, the ‎National Council for Motherhood and Childhood ‎will take charge of caring for children and women ‎who fall victims to human traffickers. Foreign ‎migrants will be granted the right to contact the ‎diplomats of their countries in Egypt so they can receive ‎help and be taken back to their countries.‎

The explanatory note also stresses that while ‎‎"international conventions on human rights and ‎Egypt's 2014 constitution grant citizens the right ‎to emigrate," it stipulates that this must be the ‎result of a decision freely and legally made and not ‎one that can be exploited "by criminal gangs which ‎use the internet and other means to secure ‎astronomical profits from this illegal activity."‎

Minister El-Agati indicated that the new bill has become a ‎necessity in order to safeguard ordinary citizens ‎against human traffickers whose activities have ‎increased in tandem with "political troubles and ‎civil wars in a number of African and Arab ‎countries."‎

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