Egypt introduces measures against human trafficking

Friday 18/12/2015
Egyptian medical staff providing care to Syrian refugees. In the background, Coast Guards processing other refugees after arrest.

Cairo - Egypt announced plans to introduce a law against human trafficking that would carry heavy pen­alties, including prison time and hefty fines, on convicted traffickers. The measure would also establish a new court to look into human trafficking.
“Traffickers work very freely here simply because they know that they will not be arrested and if they are arrested, they will not be pun­ished any time soon,” said Ahmed Muselhi, a member of the Egyptian Bar Association’s Human Traffick­ing Department. “The lack of pun­ishment just encourages traffickers to work even more.”
Egypt has long been the destina­tion of large numbers of migrants escaping conflicts, famine and tough economic conditions in Af­rica. The Trafficking in Persons Re­port, issued by the US State Depart­ment, described Egypt as a “source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subject­ed to forced labour and sex traffick­ing”.
“Egyptian children, including those among the estimated 200,000 to 1 million street children, are vul­nerable to sex trafficking and forced labour in domestic service, begging and agricultural work,” according to the 2015 report.
It said “individuals from the Gulf” purchase Egyptian women and girls for “temporary” or “sum­mer” marriages for the purpose of prostitution or forced labour. “These arrangements are often fa­cilitated by victims’ parents and marriage brokers, who profit from the transaction,” it said.
Child sex tourism, the report said, occurs primarily in Cairo, the coastal city of Alexandria and the southern city of Luxor.
Syrian refugees in Egypt are “in­creasingly vulnerable to traffick­ing”, according to the report, which adds that men and women from south and south-eastern Asia and east Africa “are subjected to forced labour in domestic service, con­struction, cleaning and begging”.
The Sinai peninsula has always been a hotbed of trafficking, where numerous groups of traffickers help the refugees cross into Israel. Some refugees were forced into sex or la­bour and others were subject to ex­tortion, the report said.
In recent years, lawlessness in neighbouring Libya and the civil war in Syria have posed new chal­lenges for Egyptians working against human trafficking.
Some Sinai traffickers were re­ported to have moved to Egypt’s western desert to facilitate the movement of African migrants or Syrian refugees into Libya and then to Europe, causing alarm in Europe, especially Italy, which has been receiving growing numbers of mi­grants in recent years.
Egypt’s new law on human traf­ficking would stipulate penalties for traffickers, according to Alaa Awad, the head of the Ministry of Immigration’s Human Trafficking Department. He said the law would soon be finalised by his ministry and then be subject to nationwide discussions before being voted on.
According to media reports, the law introduces a specific definition of terms such as “human traffick­ing”, “traffickers” and “trafficking victims”.
The law stipulates prison sen­tences for traffickers and fines of 50,000-200,000 Egyptian pounds ($6,250-$25,000) for traffickers.
If trafficking is committed by a group of people, carried out with the aim of staging terrorist at­tacks or results in the death of traf­ficked persons, traffickers could be sentenced to prison and fined 200,000-500,000 Egyptian pounds ($25,000-$62,500).
Another codicil would make it necessary for the Egyptian govern­ment to protect trafficking victims. There is also a section that obliges the government to coordinate de­portation of victims with the for­eign ministries of their home coun­tries.
Anti-trafficking activists say, however, fighting trafficking in per­sons in Egypt will take more than the introduction of a new law and the creation of a human trafficking court.
“Enforcing the laws is even more important, in fact,” said Saeed Ab­del Hafez, the head of local non-governmental organisation Nation­al Dialogue Forum for Development and Human Rights. “And to enforce the law, Egypt needs to have the political will to act against this dan­gerous phenomenon.”
Abdel Hafez and like-minded ob­servers say Egypt previously lacked the will to act against human traf­ficking.
He said the state-run National Council for Human Rights once had its own anti-human trafficking de­partment. The department advised the government on strategies to fight trafficking and prevent Egyp­tian youths from falling victim to local or international traffickers.
“The department was closed down years ago and the council has not tried to revive it again,” Abdel Hafez said. “If the government is really serious about fighting traf­ficking now, it should investigate why it stopped fighting it in the past.”