Page last updated at 15:28 GMT, Friday, 6 November 2009

Why Egypt's young dream of life abroad

By Mahmoud al-Sayed and Dina al-Naggar
BBC Arabic service

Rasha, a law student in Egypt
Rasha, an unemployed law student, is one of many who want to live abroad

Every day hundreds of Egyptians pay large amounts of money to smugglers to embark on an often perilous journey in unseaworthy boats to Europe, mainly via Libya.

Some never make it to their final destination, perishing at sea because the overcrowded boats capsized or sank in bad weather.

Yet despite the dangers many people don't seem to be put off. Some who made it to Europe but were later deported have even tried going back again.

In fact, according to a recent study by the Earth Centre for Studies almost half a million (460,000) Egyptians have successfully entered Europe illegally in the last decade, and 90,000 live in Italy alone.

Another study into attitudes towards migration by the Arabic Labour Organisation is equally revealing.

My country hasn't given me anything, I've been working on a temporary contract for seven years earning no more than $50 a month. I would migrate without hesitation if I get the chance
Civil servant

It found that 50% of students who take up postgraduate studies in Europe or the United States don't return to Egypt, meaning the country is losing some of its brightest and most talented pupils.

Two thousand young people took part in the study and when asked whether they would like to live and work abroad, 50% said yes.

Rasha Mohammed, an unemployed law graduate, does not think she will find work any time soon.

"Jobs are very scarce and if you want to work you have to know someone important," she says.

Ms Mohammed has set her sights on working in another country. "Saudi Arabia would be a good place,'' she says. "Or maybe London."

She admits that she is afraid of living on her own in Europe. But she would still go if the chance arose, despite the fact that the British economy is still in recession.

No prospects

In comparison to Egypt, the current state of the UK economy does not seem too bad

According to official figures about 10% of Egypt population of 70 million is unemployed.

But some analysts believe the figure could be much higher, and there have been calls for the government and the private sector to work harder to find jobs for millions of people who are out of work.

The injustice in the workforce market gives jobs to the rich or the relatives of important people and deprives young people of the right to hope
Dr Azza Koraim
Cairo University

According to Dr Azza Koraim, a social studies professor at Cairo University, this is what drives young people to seek a better life abroad.

"The high percentage of unemployment and the low income for those who work is one reason people leave," she says.

She adds: "The injustice in the workforce market gives jobs to the rich or the relatives of important people and deprives young people of the right to hope".

Others agree strongly with this point of view.

"My country hasn't given me anything, I've been working on a temporary contract for seven years earning no more than $50 (£30) a month," laments one civil servant, called Saeed.

"I would migrate without hesitation if I get the chance."


Migration, legal or illegal, is seen by most Egyptians as a way of finding work and getting rich - despite the risks and costs.

There is no shortage of smugglers, who charge about $5,500 per passenger.

Salim and Mohammed
Salem on the left says he wants to leave, but Mohammed wants to stay

Hundreds of thousands of people have left already and in some areas the effects can be seen and felt.

The village of Meet Badr Halawa - Halawa means sweet in Arabic - is now referred to as Meet Badr Gateau, because most men under the age of 40 work on the fruit and vegetable markets in France.

Some people send home remittances, which can also have some surprising downsides.

A recent report published in an Egyptian daily newspaper found that a village in one of Egypt's poorest governorates had seen a sharp increase in land prices.

Prices had risen because about 13,000 people from the village work in Italy and had sent money to their families to buy land and build Italian-style villas.

Some Egyptians want to leave for good. But not all.

"I wouldn't stay abroad forever," says Salem, an accountant in Cairo. "I'll just go there and work and when I get enough money I'll come back and live here again."

But others would not think of leaving the country, no matter how bad things get.

"I better handle any hardships I face with the help of my family and friends," remarks Mohammed, a school teacher.

Print Sponsor

Egyptians risking all to enter Europe
02 Jul 07 |  Middle East
Timeline: Egypt
03 Aug 11 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Egypt
03 Aug 11 |  Country profiles
Mubarak avoids talk of succession
31 Oct 09 |  Middle East


Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2020 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific