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Risking Small Boat Migration to Europe: Why Egyptian Teens Risk Their Lives

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By Robert Weiner, Mahmoud Elsharawy and Ben Lasky

More than 200 people died when a boat loaded with at least 450 immigrants capsized off Egypt's north coast on Sept. 21. Families, friends, entire villages flocked from every corner of Egypt to the structurally deficient port of Rashid to claim their loved one's bodies. The vessel, said to be destined for Italy, carried migrants with dreams of a better life including the vast majority under 18 years old. It is easy to hold the government accountable for the failure of saving those innocent young souls. But still unexplained is why youth, in their prime, exert so much effort to get on a boat, putting their lives in jeopardy on a one-way trip.

Samy Mosbah, is a merchant one of us (Mahmoud Elsharawy) used to see almost every week in Cairo as a loyal customer at his clothes store and a friend. He was always opening up to speak. Once he mentioned his brother who lives in Germany and his journey to cross the other side of the sea.

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"After three days of my brother's departure, I received a phone call from him. He said with a terrified voice, 'Samy please save me. We were being turned in to another gang and they demand a ransom, otherwise we will be beheaded.'"

He leaned in his chair and said, "I had no choice, I paid the ransom."

Mosbah, leads a decent life in Egypt. His brother could have followed suit. But his aspirations of a brighter future led him to take the risk and escape Egypt, which has become in the eyes of many Egyptians, a big jail.

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The cost of that risky trip strip most of those families of thousands of dollars in mandatory "gang protection" profit costs, with the families hoping that if their young offspring made it to Italy, they would have a better future. Traffickers and brokers manipulate the victims' family minds, promising a redemption from their abject poverty once their under-aged sons and daughters land on European soil.

The world knows that poverty is a dire situation throughout the world. That's why the Global Citizen Festival was held on Sept. 29 in Central Park, New York City. The concert festival, a yearly event put on by the Global Poverty Project, has the goal of "ending extreme poverty" by 2030.

Part of that goal should be through education and job training. MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell founded Kids in Need of Desks (KIND) in 2010, which provides students in Malawi with desks, a problem not even thought of in the U.S. Since its founding, the number of students with desks in Malawi has doubled. Oprah Winfrey founded the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa in 2007. The school's goal is to create leaders who will give back to the community. However, these countries' citizens should not depend on wealthy media representatives to cure poverty.

Population growth is also an issue that contributes to poverty. Egypt's regimes view its growing population as a burden that overconsumes the subsidized energy and food. The government is not doing enough to prevent such catastrophe. These regimes have had no plan except exporting millions of Egyptians to countries looking for a labor supply -- Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Yet now these countries are suffering their own economic problems caused by falling oil prices and war. What adds insult to injury is that the vital tourism industry has dried up since the political turmoil, taking away billions of dollars in foreign currency and millions of jobs out of the Egyptian economy. However, the economic hardship is not the only reason young Egyptian risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean.

The uprising against Hosni Mubarak was caused by the inequality of opportunity in Egypt as well as political repression. Yet years later, the situation is worse. The loss of hope bolsters that feeling among youth that they are outsiders.

The choice to travel abroad is limited to the highly qualified people who are eligible to study or work and who go through a rigorous process.

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To make an analogy, most Egyptians are in the same boat, at this point a semi-capsized one. Egypt needs the education and skills to better the lives of its young people, and make the dangerous decision to try and flee less appealing. The truth is, Middle Eastern nations need to spend some of their money from billions of dollars in military aid and use it instead for education and training of their young people. The alternate funding should be mandated by the giving countries, like the U.S. From 2011-2015, America gave Egypt $6.5 billion. That's a lot of teens who would not need to sail to their deaths. The funding would also give hope in-country, in nations like Egypt, to youth who otherwise are emigrating from desperation.

In addition, because youth now feel like they are jailed, countries abroad could provide job training to young immigrants before sending youth back to their homelands.

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Robert Weiner, NATIONAL PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND ISSUES STRATEGIST Bob Weiner, a national issues and public affairs strategist, has been spokesman for and directed the public affairs offices of White House Drug Czar and Four Star General Barry (more...)
 

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