Egypt’s poor­est risk death in search of work

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - REUTERS

TARFA AL-KOM: In a bare room with noth­ing but a small pillow, a few pots, and a sheet to cover the dusty floor, Youssef Ab­dul­lah’s fam­ily was liv­ing in an im­pov­er­ished Up­per Egyp­tian vil­lage when they were told he was dead.

Ab­dul­lah was one of at least 22 Egyp­tians found dead this month from heat and star­va­tion af­ter trekking through the Libyan desert by foot in search of jobs.

“Youssef ’s cir­cum­stances were very bad. If he found work here he wouldn’t have trav­elled. I wish I had stopped him but I wasn’t able to… he trav­elled with­out me know­ing,” his fa­ther, Ab­dul­lah Mah­moud, said.

The Libyan Red Cres­cent said the bod­ies were found in the Jagh­bub desert, 400km south of To­bruk.

Many of them came from vil­lages in Minya, an im­pov­er­ished prov­ince south of Cairo, where res­i­dents say poverty and un­em­ploy­ment have been driv­ing vil­lagers to put their lives at risk to find work, even in he law­less chaos of Libya’s civil war.

Egypt last year be­gan sweep­ing eco­nomic re­forms as part of a three-year $12 bil­lion (R156bn) In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund loan pro­gramme, float­ing its pound cur­rency and slash­ing sub­si­dies in a bid to lure back for­eign in­vest­ment that fled af­ter its 2011 up­ris­ing.

But the mea­sures have pushed in­fla­tion above 30% and slashed pur­chas­ing power.

“Con­di­tions are as bad as it gets,” said Ab­dul­lah’s mother.

Ab­dul­lah made about £50 Egyp­tian pounds (R35) a day work­ing as a farmer, but that work was not avail­able ev­ery day.

Be­fore Libya de­scended into civil war, Ab­dul­lah’s broth­ers had trav­elled there for work, re­turn­ing with enough money to build a mod­est two-storey brick home.

When Ab­dul­lah was un­able to come up with the money to build his own, he de­cided to go too.

To get to Libya, Ab­dul­lah and others from his neigh­bour­hood paid a bro­ker from a nearby vil­lage, who took money in ex­change for pro­vid­ing what he said was le­gal pas­sage, the fam­i­lies said. He then passed them on to smug­glers who left them in the desert with­out wa­ter or food.

The bro­ker, who charged 5 000 to 7 000 Egyp­tian pounds (R3 594) for the ser­vice, re­mains free. Res­i­dents said he threat­ened re­venge if they re­ported him to author­i­ties.

An­other vic­tim was Ibrahim Abushusha, 26, who worked as a day labourer and had mar­ried six months ear­lier.

His brother Khalid, who him­self re­turned from Libya when se­cu­rity there de­te­ri­o­rated, de­scribed the mi­grant bro­kers as “traders of lives” and “blood deal­ers”. He warned Ibrahim not to deal with them.

“People pay 7 000 pounds to head off to Libya… to die. Af­ter Ibrahim died the bro­ker spoke to his fa­ther and told him ‘pre­pare the money, your son ar­rived’,” said Khalid.

“Why do young people travel like this and throw them­selves into the fire? It’s be­cause they don’t find any­thing here. There are no job op­por­tu­ni­ties mak­ing them stay.”

Though of­fi­cial un­em­ploy­ment fig­ures show the job­less rate at around 12%, young people re­main dis­pro­por­tion­ately im­pacted by the jobs short­age, which economists say is likely to be much higher in re­al­ity.

Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah al-Sisi has pledged to re­duce job­less­ness to 10% over the next few years, but economists say that would take higher eco­nomic growth.

Among the sur­vivors was Said Ab­dul­lah, who dug his 17-year-old son a grave by hand af­ter he died. Samir, Ab­dul­lah’s brother, said: “The state is not help­ing the people.”

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

Vil­lage work­ers travel along a road near the vil­lage of Tarfa al-Kom in Minya prov­ince, Egypt.

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