Dozens of families gathered early this month to take part with their children in a ceremony that honoured them for using brush and colours to show the problems of illegal migration.
While he hailed the competition that allowed students to use their creative skills to deal with an issue as important as illegal migration, Akram Hassan from the Ministry of Education said the competition succeeded in incorporating the topic in cultural activities in schools and including it in the national curriculum in preparatory and secondary stages.
Chief of the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) mission in Egypt, Carlos Oliver, described art competitions as “a small drop in the ocean” or “one piece of the puzzle” and that raising awareness is one of the most effective tools in combating illegal migration.
“It is not just about being qualified in the competition or winning it. The children participating in the competition, and their families as well as the school staff are ambassadors in their own way because they spread the ideas acquired during the competition,” Oliver told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Oliver praised the ministry’s decision to include illegal migration in the national curriculum starting from the next academic year.
The competition was organised by the National Coordinating Committee for Combating and Preventing Illegal Migration and Trafficking in Persons (NCCPIM&TIP), in collaboration with IOM, the EU, the Ministry of Education and the government of Italy.
This is the third time the competition is held.
Naela Gabr, chairperson of NCCPIM&TIP, said that holding the competition for the third time means that one of the three pillars for combating illegal migration, which is awareness, is met. The two other pillars are issuing laws and development programmes.
“Raising awareness is one of the main aims of NCCPIM in order to help the most vulnerable groups, namely youth,” Gabr said.
She pointed to other tools used by the NCCPIM to spread awareness, especially in governorates that have the highest illegal migration rates, such as conducting awareness lectures and workshops with children and adults, and preparing plays to be presented in school theatres.
Working though art allowed the young generation to reflect on the risks of illegal migration, according to Graziella Rizza, head of the governance section of the EU delegation to Egypt.
“Looking at the different drawings that won in the competition, they are all delivering strong messages. Children used dark colours in their drawings because the people in Egypt have started thinking about illegal migration as a concept that steals lives rather than providing a new life as some used to believe in the past,” Rizza said.
She praised the efforts exerted in Egypt in combating illegal migration, as at present there is zero departure from Egypt’s shores at a time when “we saw trends of [illegal] departures from Tunisian shores and the number of illegal departures from Libya had quadrupled in comparison to last year,” she said.
She expressed her hope that in the future there will be travelling exhibitions about illegal migration and exchange programmes on illegal migration with young generations on the other side of the Mediterranean as well.
Rizza also pointed to the need to provide people with more opportunities for legal migration.
“This narrative needs to be supported in two ways: first we need to have clearly-drawn legal pathways and we need to provide ample opportunities now,” she told the Weekly.
Altogether, 720 children from 24 schools in 12 governorates took part in this year’s competition.
Between two and four students won in each governorate.
The prize presented a genuine incentive for Mahmoud Ahmed Abbas, a 12-year-old winner from Daqahliya.
“The competition gave me the chance to gain ample information about the drawbacks of illegal migration and discuss the issue with my friends and family. The prize will give me more motivation to further discuss the issue with people I know,” Abbas said.
The ceremony also acknowledged the efforts of programme supervisors in the participating governorates.
The certificates of appreciation that the NCCPIM gave us today will give us motivation to work harder, said Mona Ibrahim, a supervisor from Daqahliya.
“This is the third year for the competition. Each year sees an increase in the number of awareness lectures delivered to the students as well as in the number of participants in the competition. In addition, as supervisors, we try to cooperate with each other and benefit from each other’s experiences,” Ibrahim said.
Zahia Diab, a supervisor from Assiut, was happy to be in the programme for the third year in a row as students come up every year with more creative ideas and deeper visions about illegal migration.
“Once our children who participate in these competitions hold a brush they will never leave it. They will always be ambassadors for their schools, families and the environment they were brought up in,” Diab said.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 April, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly