Thousands of Egyptians are running the risk of death at the hands of ISIS militants in Libya because they are unable to find work due to the country’s economic woes.
The civil war in Libya is still raging with almost daily reports of militant attacks against both Libyans and foreigners, while governments across the globe have warned their citizens to stay away from the danger zone.
But this hasn’t stopped desperate Egyptian workers - an estimated 75,000 - from flocking to the North African state where just last week 11 people were brutally beheaded by ISIS militants.
“Sadly these type of incidents are now an almost everyday occurrence in Libya,” says Mina Thabet, a program director at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.
Many who risk life and limb on Libyan soil are left with little choice thanks to poverty and limited opportunities back home in Egypt, a situation which has worsened in recent months thanks to the country’s economic woes.
“Most of the people who end up traveling to Libya for work are from Upper Egypt where there are high rates of poverty and unemployment along with low levels of education,” Thabet told Al Bawaba News.
“They often come from families who’ve been going to Libya for work for maybe 20 or 30 years. They tend to work in the construction industry and they go to Libya to make a living because there are no opportunities for them in Egypt,” he added.
The dangers are more than a passing threat. In February 2015, a group of 21 Christian Egyptian construction workers were beheaded along the country’s Mediterranean coast by ISIS-affiliated militants.
The brutal killings sparked outrage and horror in the village of Al-Our, the birthplace of 13 of the victims, and across Egypt with many calling for vengeance against the militants.
In the aftermath, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi launched air strikes against militants in the Libyan city of Derna. Officials also stepped up patrols to prevent undocumented migration to the war-torn country
While the measures may have disrupted the militants, they did little to stem the flow of desperate workers fleeing to Libya in search of a wage that they could not find on Egyptian soil.
Many of those who travel to Libya come from the country’s southern governorates, areas which are hundreds of miles from the glitzy Cairene compounds favored by the Egyptian elite in both distance and living standards.
In Upper Egypt, where life is hard, opportunities are few and education is limited many relied on government subsidized goods to make ends meet. But earlier this year, the government scrapped fuel subsidies after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi approved a draft state budget that reduces the budget deficit to 9.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) from 11.5 percent.
Alongside fuel, electricity and water prices have also been hiked by the government in recent months.
Add to this, the government’s decision to float the country’s currency last year - a move which saw the value of the EGP drop by half against the USD - and it is easy to see that such measures have had a knock-on effect and sent the price of many everyday goods and services on the streets of Egypt soaring.
Speaking about the current economic situation in Egypt, Thabet is frank.
“Right now they are facing a lot of challenges because of the economic situation in Egypt. It is a tragedy right now. We are seeing rising prices, the currency has been devalued while salaries have remained the same. The people living in Upper Egypt are now facing extreme poverty and a lack of opportunities. When they go to Libya they can earn enough money to build a life and a future for themselves," he said.
While Thabet doesn’t believe that the government is entirely to blame for the situation, he has called on the country’s leaders to provide more opportunities for all Egyptians
“I don’t think it comes down to any one man or thing. In order to stop people going to Libya, the government must create more jobs and opportunities across the whole country and especially in Upper Egypt,” he said.
“We are seeing the poor and the middle classes pushed so that they have to work in conflict zones with no safety because they have no other opportunity. The government must look out for all Egyptians not just the upper classes. All Egyptians must be treated as first class citizens in our country and not second or third class citizens,” he added.
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