Report: Political instability does not influence migration behavior

A recent report on migration behavior reveals that the political instability in Egypt following the 25 January revolution is not necessarily a cause for people wanting to leave the country.

On Wednesday, the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies (CMRS) at the American University in Cairo hosted a seminar called “Egypt after 25 January: A Survey of Youth Migration Behavior," which was about the perception of Egyptians aged 18-29 about current conditions and future opportunities in Egypt.

The survey was conducted between March and April 2011 by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on a sample of 750 youth in 17 different governorates in an attempt to understand to what extent the turmoil, reform and uncertainty in Egypt may have positively or negatively influenced the decision to migrate.

“Since the political and economic situation is constantly changing, there is a possibility that if we conducted the survey again now, the results would be very different,” said Patrizio Fanti, an IOM program officer.

According to the survey’s findings released in July, the perception of the country’s stability, political climate and economic situation is not a motivating factor influencing migration decisions. 

The top five most important issues for Egyptian youths, covering both ones who want and do not want to emigrate, were jobs and employment (79 percent), corruption (67 percent), security (56 percent), wages/salaries (43 percent) and constitutional reform (40 percent); these were followed by education, poverty, housing, democracy and free elections.

Forty-four percent had intended to migrate before the revolution and 41 percent stated that the revolution only had a minor influence on their decision.

Migration is considered a temporary choice, as more than 80 percent of interviewees said they wished to return to Egypt after a period of time spent abroad. Furthermore, acquiring new skills was a priority for a quarter of interviewees, while other objectives included wanting to experience life in other countries, pursuing studies, security, and reuniting with family or friends.

Egyptian youths want to travel not only for economic reasons, but also to improve their resumes and working skills, learn new languages and get to know different cultures, the survey concluded.

Even though 50 percent expressed a desire to migrate, 70 percent of respondents did not have valid passports, the report said. However, many young people seem to be aware that traveling illegally is easier than acquiring a visa. A new project has been set up in Egypt to address the issue of irregular migration. 

The CMRS seminar presented a larger three-year-long program, carried out by the IOM and financed by the Italian government. The project, entitled “Promoting safe migration and positive alternatives for the Egyptian youth,” aims at educating youths about the dangers of illegal migration.

The project includes the renovation and purchase of technological equipment for a tourism school in Tatun, Fayoum, a village where irregular migration is rampant.

The program also plans to provide vocational training, adapt the school's curriculum to international education standards, and implement an information campaign targeted at 2000 youths aged 15-18.

The project also includes the production of a high-quality film starring Egyptian movie actor Amr Waked. The screenplay writer and director were asked to create a film the audience could easily identify with. It is set in a typical rural Egyptian village and tells the experience of a family dealing with social pressures and economic hardships that will frustrate their three sons' attempts to pursue their dreams. The film was published on YouTube in July.

“Messages and slogans were formulated taking into account the youth's language and interests, with an interactive entertainment approach to help them better understand the campaign,” reads the project’s brochure.

The information campaign recalls ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s 2008 campaign to prevent irregular migration, which spread slogans like "The sea is dangerous, love your country." Among the new project's messages is “Challenge yourself, don’t challenge the sea!”

The campaign message clashes with the survey’s findings, according to which love for Egypt, willingness to return, and optimism about the future do not seem to influence the will to travel.

In a survey carried out in 2010 in Tatun, where today 10 percent of the population lives and works in Italy, 98 percent of the sampled knew someone living abroad or who had traveled and returned to Egypt. Fifty-eight percent of respondents believed that irregular migration was easy and that the easiest countries to reach were Italy (58 percent), Greece (34 percent), Libya (26 percent), Turkey (17 percent) and Malta (6 percent).

Such beliefs are ubiquitous in these "sending villages,” independent from any European efforts to draw in outside help for its economy, which generally requires unskilled manpower for jobs that Europeans are either overqualified for or not willing to undertake.

Atef Abdel Malek, a senior IOM consultant, admitted that even though Egypt's unemployment rate increased by 3 percent in the months following the revolution, 80 to 90 percent of illiterate people are actually employed. Furthermore, he added, the majority of Egyptians in Italy are employed in the agriculture, tourism and construction sectors. This data contrasts with the government's decision to try to improve education standards in areas with high rates of emigration.

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