The European Union (EU) is watching the migrant situation in Egypt after an increase in sea crossings and following claims from Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi that five million migrants are residing in the country waiting to cross the Mediterranean.
President el-Sissi warned the international community and the EU at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York that his country was harbouring over five million migrants.
This figure has been debated by some in Egypt after reportedly only 250,000 people were registered as refugees. But an increasing number leaving in boats for southern European countries has raised concerns that Egypt will become another Libya, reports Zeit Online.
The Egyptian president also claimed that the scale of Islamic State fighters in his country is much larger than previously estimated. President el-Sissi said that the stability of Egypt is critical for the security of Europe, and said that if Egypt should collapse then Europe could expect the exportation of millions of pro-Islamic State migrants.
The number of migrants who have left Egypt heading for Europe by boat this year so far is over 12,000. The composition of the migrants leaving Egypt is now mirroring those who come from Libya with increasing numbers being underage migrants.
Increasingly the migrants, like those originating from West Africa and Libya, registered by the governments in Europe as asylum seekers are migrating for better economic opportunities, rather than fleeing war or political persecution.
Human traffickers are also said to be profiting immensely from the new Egyptian wave of migrants. It has been reported that people smugglers charge as much as €3,500 per person and €5,500 for a family.
Many of the people smugglers have also been reported to have direct ties to Islamic State. Authorities fear that the terror group has taken over large sections of the people smuggling industry in the region to finance its territory and army.
Corruption and the economy, which is suffering in part due to a fall in tourism, has made people smuggling even easier in the country with many out-of-work fishermen considering trafficking a viable alternative to making a living. Local police who are underpaid, or corrupt, also turn a blind eye in return for recompense from smugglers.
Italian authorities have also claimed that efforts to coordinate with the Egyptian government to tackle illegal migration across the Mediterranean have been futile. This lack of cooperation and warnings from President el-Sissi has led to speculation that the Egyptian government is taking advantage of the migrant crisis in order to secure a deal with the EU similar to that of Turkey’s.