After several discussions, the parliament decided to label illegal migrants as victims rather than defendants who could be punished for illegal immigration, in order to focus more on holding accountable the entities that organise or assist in the illegal operation, member of parliament Tarek El- Khouly told Daily News Egypt on Tuesday.
How to deal with illegal immigrants was a point of contention among MPs. Some view illegal immigrants as a person who feels forced to leave the country due to poor conditions or opportunities, while others have the view that punishing illegal immigrants will reduce the phenomenon.
As Egypt has signed the 2004 Palermo Convention against transnational organised crime which stipulates that only human traffickers may be punished, the newly-passed law is not permitted to apply punitive measures to illegal migrants and immigrants.
Despite this protocol, Egypt was involved in the extra-judicial killing and arrest of many illegal immigrants who attempted to immigrate via Egypt’s borders in the Sinai Peninsula, local media reported.
A number of Africans are still detained in Egyptian prisons, as they refuse to be deported back to their homelands.
El-Khouly criticised several sectors that are discussing the law, as each sector is receiving funds from the state, saying that this will distort the focus, create conflicts, and waste public funds; therefore, he suggested that only one sector be dedicated to this issue.
Other legal experts praised the Illegal Immigration Law (approved on Monday after 420 MPs voted in its favour), believing that it guarantees protection and legal rights for immigrants in accordance to the Constitution.
Toughening penalties against traffickers or “brokers” was the most prominent point in the new law, which stipulates harsh prison sentences and fines ranging from EGP 200-500 for those involved in organising or assisting the illegal immigration process—measures that were lauded by legal experts.
Nonetheless, some MPs and legal experts asserted that the law did not reach beyond this—to the reasons that force people to illegally immigrate.
This law was drafted by the cabinet in 2015 and was passed on to parliament for discussion in June 2016 before the end of the first legislative session.
There has been an increase in the number of refugees in the region due to political conflicts spreading across the Middle East and Africa. This has led to an increase in human trafficking across Egypt’s borders recently.
The majority of illegal immigrants and refugees flowing through North Africa stem from other parts of the African continent; however, the number of Egyptians also migrating illegally has increased as of late.
On 11 October, a tripartite summit was held by Egyptian, Cypriot, and Greek leaders who agreed on the importance of dealing with illegal immigration and the flow of refugees.
In late September, a boat heading to Europe capsized off the coast of Rashid in Beheira governorate, in which the death toll reached 202 people. The incident triggered public outrage, which forced the government to put in place further measures against the practice.