Illegal Migration in the Mediterranean Basin Conference

Date Published: 
Thursday, July 15, 2021

Statement by Laurent de Boeck, Chief of Mission of the International Organization for Migration to the Arab Republic of Egypt


Distinguished guests,

I am pleased to be in this prestigious building today and I would like to thank the Bibliotheca Alexandrina for associating IOM to this important event.

Irregular migration continues to test Governments’ capacities in protecting the rights of migrants. According to IOM migration flow monitoring, in 2021, 55,424 migrants of every origin have arrived in Europe by sea and by land as of 7 July 2021, compared to 99,475 in 2020 and 128,536 in 2019. They arrived in Europe through the Eastern, Central and Western Mediterranean routes and through the Western African Atlantic route.

These 55,424 migrants in 2021 represent 23 per cent less than the 128,536 arrivals registered in 2019 and 33 per cent less than the 147,683 of 2018. Arrivals in the fourth quarter of 2020 (37,454) increased by more than four times compared to arrivals in the second quarter of the same year (8,822). This significant increase coincides with the ease of travel and mobility restrictions previously imposed by authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 since late February 2020.

In 2020, most (42%) registered individuals arrived in Spain (41,861) either through the Western African Atlantic route (23,023) or through the Western Mediterranean routes (18,838). Another 37 per cent crossed the Central Mediterranean reaching Italy (34,154) or Malta (2,281), while the remaining 21 per cent arrived through the Eastern Mediterranean routes in Greece (14,785), Bulgaria (3,399) and Cyprus (2,965).

At least 1,146 people died attempting to reach Europe by sea in the first six months of 2021. Deaths along these routes more than doubled so far this year compared to the same period in 2020, when 513 migrants are known to have drowned, which illustrates the serious risks posed by the dangerous irregular journeys. From the deaths recorded attempting to cross the Mediterranean, at least 741 people died on the Central Mediterranean route, while 149 people lost their lives crossing the Western Mediterranean and six died on the Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece.

Migrant smuggling has become a major part of irregular movements, and its huge scale poses significant threats to migration governance and the well-being of migrants. INTERPOL/EUROPOL report that 90% of migrants crossing the Mediterranean in 2015 made use of migrant smugglers.

Instability has allowed the traditional tribal trans-Sahara trade in drugs, contraband, migrants and arms to grow constantly, while serving as a safe haven for several terrorist and/or jihadist groups in the Sahel.

The high number of migrants along the North African coast has enabled the development of an extremely lucrative coastal migrant trade, valued at an estimated amount between US$ 255 and 323 million per year in Libya alone.

To effectively interdict migrant smuggling and prosecute smugglers, States, international organizations, civil society, and private sector must approach the fight against migrant smuggling by using a similar business model:  

  • Reduce the profits for smugglers by increasing the fines they would face, financially as well as through punishment;
  • Confiscation of the proceeds of crime;
  • Reduce the demand for smuggling, by offering significantly more and quicker access to legal channels.

IOM has been engaged in closely cooperating with States, non-governmental partners, civil society, migrant community organizations, media, research institutes and private sector, in combating smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons.

The IOM approach towards countering migrant smuggling is based on four pillars:

  • Help migrants in distress and save their lives;
  • Create more legal channels for migration and resettlement to third countries;
  • Mitigate the root causes and factors that drive migrants to seek smugglers;
  • Interdiction of migrant smugglers and prosecution of smugglers.

During 2020 and in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, IOM continued and expanded its interventions to assist vulnerable migrants and 12,791 migrants received assistance services during 2020, including 4,794 assistance boxes distributed to assist 10,241 vulnerable migrants as part of IOM Egypt Response to COVID-19.

Furthermore, IOM has expanded its efforts to propose higher numbers of voluntary returns to irregular stranded migrants from 495 in 2018 to double its number in 2019 with a total of 905 returned and reintegrated migrants. This is one of our key programs geared towards durable solutions for irregular migrants.

We have a longstanding strong cooperation with the Government of Egypt aimed at strengthening national capacities to counter migration-related crimes, while ensuring protection to vulnerable migrants, raising awareness on the risks associated with irregular migration and supporting initiatives to provide positive alternatives to irregular migration.

As we could hear yesterday, the Government of Egypt has taken strong multi-pronged initiatives to counter migration-related crimes, which include the promulgation of Law 82/2016 on smuggling of migrants and the national strategies on countering smuggling of migrants, trafficking in persons and awareness-raising on risks associated with irregular migration.

Furthermore, we strongly believe that the NCCPIM&TIP plays a central role as inter-agency body to coordinate all actions related to countering migration-related crimes, ensuring a whole-of-government approach, with all partners.

In this regard, IOM has partnered with a series of institutions in the Government on various capacity building actions and training activities to enhance the knowledge and skills of Egyptian law enforcement officials, prosecutors and judges on the investigation, prosecution, and trial of migrant smuggling cases.

Our work includes a strong partnership with the Ministry of Social Solidarity which has developed an inclusive approach on social services, providing equal help to migrants and their host communities, including victims of smuggling and trafficking. It is a pleasure to collaborate with Officials showing passion and altruism for the people in need.

Migration-related crimes are often cross-border either by definition or in practice. Therefore, IOM has partnered closely with the Egyptian Office of Prosecutor General to enhance cross-border cooperation among African Prosecutors under the Egyptian Presidency of the Africa Prosecutors Association (APA) through various symposiums and online workshops for African public prosecutors, organized jointly with OPG during the last two years. It is a pleasure working with the OPG in this regard.

Furthermore, we work closely with the Government of Egypt to strengthen the engagement under multiple regional forums including PAFOM (Pan African Forum on Migration), Khartoum Process and AU-Horn of Africa Initiative. I take this opportunity to commend the leadership of the Government of Egypt during its Presidency of the African Union in 2019 to elevate deliberations on migration management on the AU agenda and hosting the 5th PAFOM meeting in Cairo in 2019.

Moreover, IOM closely works on a daily basis with NCCPIM&TIP to implement various actions of protection, prosecution and prevention, including information campaigns to raise awareness of Egyptian and migrant communities on the risks associated with irregular migration and trafficking in persons and enable them to take informed migration decisions.

In 2020, IOM produced and launched the first TV campaign on trafficking in persons in Egypt. In coordination with NCCPIM&TIP, IOM produced a public service announcement (PSA) to contribute to the prevention of trafficking in persons and the protection of Victims of Trafficking and at-risk populations. The campaign was also calling the public to report these crimes to the Authorities – including the helplines of the National Council for Women and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, as well as the helpline of the National Council for Human Rights. It is also an occasion to congratulate the three National Councils for their restless engagement in this protection scheme.

Initiatives for provision of positive alternatives to irregular migration are essential to counter this phenomenon. Such actions are undertaken in partnership with national actors to complement awareness-raising initiatives with the objective of providing opportunities to reduce the propensity towards undertaking dangerous irregular journeys.

IOM Egypt aimed to ensure that migration is a voluntary decision and that, in case where migrants are instead driven by crisis or conflict, they can fulfil their basic human rights. IOM worked on increasing social cohesion and integration between migrants and host communities. We do so by focusing on establishing migrant-friendly inclusive services, fostering social cohesion and employment opportunities at community level. Job creation is an excellent response to the root causes of irregular migration.

Protection of vulnerable migrants and victims of smuggling and trafficking is an integral component of our joint approach towards effective management of migratory flows. In this regard, we have worked closely with social service actors to enhance national skills, knowledge and facilities on protection and service provision to the most vulnerable, including the recent shelter for victims and the hotlines.

Furthermore, we are working closely with national partners like NCCPIM&TIP and NCCM, and other UN agencies like UNICEF, to support the operationalization of SOPs on protection of different categories of Children on the Move, which was launched in January 2020. Again, I want to congratulate NCCM for such milestone in the protection approach of Egypt towards victims of smuggling and trafficking.

I am personally proud to partner with the Government of Egypt in this comprehensive approach in tackling irregular migration and related crimes, which focuses on prevention, protection of vulnerable migrants, interdiction, and prosecution of criminal networks.

The Egyptian whole-of-government response to irregular migration and migration-related crimes serves as an example in the region, which includes a coordinated approach and strong cooperation with national and international partners for effective migration management. The coordinated efforts have yielded extremely positive results, which are evidenced from the shifting of the migratory flows from the Egyptian coast to the Central and Western routes.

Furthermore, allow me to highlight here some key features of our recently launched IOM Country Strategy 2021 – 25. The Strategy aims to build on the achievements and strong partnership of the past three years.

For 2021–2025, IOM Egypt will promote evidence-based policy and programming, with a focus on three main pillars corresponding to specific national priorities: 1) Resilience; 2) Mobility and 3) Governance.

  • Under the Resilience pillar, IOM will focus on:
    • Effective provision of protection and assistance to vulnerable migrants;
    • Improving health and wellbeing of migrants;
    • Strengthen community cohesion and migrant integration
  • On Mobility, we aim to:
    • Enhance existing and develop new, efficient, rights-based and safe mobility pathways;
    • Empower the youth through increasing awareness on risks of irregular migration and employability, and;
    • Increase expatriate engagement to enhance their contribution to the socio-economic development of Egypt.
  • Lastly, on Migration Governance, our priorities focus on:
    • Minimizing the impact of climate change on migration;
    • Strengthen border management through enhanced collaboration with national partners and;
    • Enhance the Government capacities to engage into Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration interventions for stranded migrants as part of durable solutions.

While implementing the priorities of our Strategy 2021-2025, special emphasis will be placed on ensuring gender mainstreaming and adopting a gender-inclusive approach that is responsive to the beneficiaries’ needs in all IOM interventions. Activities will be tailored to create a comprehensive and inclusive approach where the needs of beneficiaries irrespective of their gender are equally identified, understood, and met.

From IOM perspective, an ideal comprehensive migration management approach would start by addressing the impetus for migration (root causes - the push and pull factors, forced or voluntary), followed by the various stages of travel and entry (either by regular or irregular means, and either facilitated – regular or irregular– or spontaneous), settlement and/or safe, return and sustainable,  integration and/or reintegration and, ultimately, in some cases, working towards the acquisition of nationality.

In Egypt, in particular, there is an additional number of important elements that needs to be added to the equation, which are linked to the impact and contributions of the Egyptian expatriates to the economic development of the country, as well as cross-cutting themes, such as the need to address protection issues, particularly for women and children. We praise the work of the Ministry of State for Immigration and Egyptian Expatriates Affairs in this regard.

The stages of the migration process are interlinked and involve a variety of actors. Public and private entities, including more than ten Ministries, have been identified by IOM as working either directly or indirectly on migration issues, as well as individuals, such as employers, family members, community organizations, international organizations, and development partners.

Overall, the migration process includes complex linkages between, inter alia, economic, social, trade, labour, health, cultural and security policy areas, as well as rights and obligations including, at the international level, those of migrants and States. In that sense, the Strategy seeks engagement and partnerships with new stakeholders effective in the migration dynamics. In addition, the new strategy seeks to support more comprehensive policies that would take the three pillars of resilience, mobility, and governance into account, in addition to actions aimed at reducing the gap between the policy and reality.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend the immense efforts of the Government of Egypt to bring positive results which are a testament to the Government’s commitment in curbing migration-related crimes, whilst protecting vulnerable migrants.

In particular, I would like to thank H.E Ambassador Naela Gabr, the Chairperson of NCCPIM&TIP, for her personal commitment and trust in the importance of a range of initiatives undertaken to enhance the implementation of national legal frameworks and relevant strategies to counter smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons, while ensuring the protection of vulnerable migrants and victims.

I look forward to pursuing our cooperation and have more similar events such as this workshop at regular intervals. It is important for all of us to analyse our objectives and conclude with ambitious but promising results.

Once again, I congratulate and thank the Bibliotheca Alexandrina for such initiative.

Thank you for your attention.