Mid-September Update: Goodbye Egypt, Hello Kenya!

 

Just time for a quick one as I’ve not even packed yet and I’m leaving for Nairobi, Kenya in a few hours!

As promised, I’m writing to share some more of my work for the Irregular Migration of Minors programme of the Egypt office of Save the Children (UK). Clicking on the following two images will take you to two photo essays I’ve written based on the material I gathered. The first introduces the problem of irregular migration from Egypt to Europe, and the second presents CSR investment in developing tourism in the town of Rashid (Rosetta) on the Mediterranean coast as something that could provide a real alternative to would-be child migrants. (Disclaimer: any views expressed here are my own; they might not necessarily be those of Save the Children.)

irregular migration the problem save the children link Mid September Update: Goodbye Egypt, Hello Kenya!

Irregular migration, the problem

irregular migration an alternative through csr save the children link Mid September Update: Goodbye Egypt, Hello Kenya!

Irregular migration: an alternative through CSR

 

During this period, I’ve been working alongside programme staff from Save the Children and its local partner, the Youth Association for Population and Development (YAPD). While I concentrated on photography and some videography, they talked with a number of my subjects about the issue of irregular migration. The following audio slideshow, in Arabic with English subtitles, draws on this material and will be used by Save the Children to introduce CSR professionals to the nature of the problem:

Finally, I’d like to share a captioned slideshow that does a similar job to the two photo essays above, introducing the people of Borg-Meghezil, a village from which many minors migrate, and then presenting tourism in Rashid as a potential alternative for them, given CSR investment:

As I mentioned at the top, this brings my time in Egypt to a close, at least for the moment. I’m now headed to Kenya, where I have humanitarian, environmental and travel-related work lined up. Stay tuned to these pages for more over the coming weeks! For now, let me leave you with my Moment of the Day, as posted today on the Robin Wyatt Vision Facebook page:

IMG13558 and IMG13564 Mid September Update: Goodbye Egypt, Hello Kenya!

Moment of the Day (15th September 2011): A last look at Cairo – Views from the Cairo Tower.

 

I hope you’re looking forward to my views of Kenya, coming shortly! Ciao till then.

 

Irregular Migration, the Problem (Save the Children)

The Egyptian village of Borg-Meghezil, close to one of the points at which the River Nile meets the Mediterranean Sea, lies in a region that has historically been associated with fish. Boys from here have traditionally followed their fathers’ footsteps into the fishing industry, whether at sea as fishermen or on dry land in the marketplace. However, this tradition is being surpassed by a new practice: ‘irregular migration’ – in an undocumented and illegal manner – across the Mediterranean to Europe. The perception is that this is a route to riches, yet it is often a route to misery.

This photo essay, constructed from material gathered for the Irregular Migration of Minors programme of Save the Children (UK)’s Egypt office, introduces you to children from Borg-Meghezil who may one day soon consider leaving for Europe, as well as young men who have returned from there, parents of boys who attempted the journey and activists working to raise awareness of the dangers of illegal migration. Together, the voices from this village tell a story that is not atypical for this region. Indeed, increasing numbers are trying to reach Europe from elsewhere on the Mediterranean coast, further inland in Egypt and other Arab World countries as well. Often they are ready to attempt this exit by whatever means necessary. With financial support from the European Union (EU), Save the Children is working to identify and promote alternatives and thereby turn the tide on this practice.

Almost all of the images below, along with others from the same series, may be purchased as beautiful colour prints, licensed for download or shared via social media platforms. To make your selection, just click on the ‘Buy | Share’ link at the end of any of the captions, or directly on any image, and you will be taken to the gallery entitled ‘Irregular migration, the problem (Save the Children)’ in my Image Archive.

 

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Meet some of the children of Borg-Meghezil. Much like children almost anywhere, they are playful, smile delightfully and are full of hope. Buy | Share

 

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These children were born into a village that lies right at the mouth of the River Nile, where it meets the Mediterranean. To the left are the green shoots of the rice that, along with fish from both the river and the sea, sustains them. To the right, a fanous (Ramadan lantern) hangs from the minaret of the village mosque; the Islamic faith exerts a strong influence, providing them with spiritual sustenance. Buy | Share

 

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As they grow up here, children develop strong emotional ties to their families, friends and communities. These are ties that bind. Buy | Share

 

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However, a perceived lack of opportunities – confirmed by the unemployment and underemployment they see all around them as they grow up – leads many boys and young men to break the physicality of these ties to migrate to Europe in search of better fortunes. In so doing, they leave behind those who are dear to them, not knowing when (or even whether) they will see them again. And they make their families a promise that they cannot be sure of delivering on: that they will send them good money with which they too will be able to improve their livelihoods. Buy | Share

 

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These two boys seem a study in irony. Within a five-minute period, they each jump separately onto the back of one of the pickup trucks that ferry passengers along the road to the village. The boy on the left proudly wears colours associated with Egypt on a football shirt emblazoned with ’25 January’ in memory of his country’s 2011 revolution. Although the boy on the right may share the other’s patriotism and gladness about the changes promised by the revolution, his football shirt tells a different story. ‘Italia’: the country that so many boys and young men from these parts aspire to reach by whatever means possible, a situation that has not evolved at all since the political changes of early 2011. Buy | Share

 

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Standing on the beach where the Nile meets the Mediterranean, Ashraf, Hasan, Mostafa Mohamed, Mostafa Ahmed and Abdu stare in the direction of Europe and contemplate what their futures might hold. Every year, thousands of young males, many of whom are minors, bankrupt their families in order to attempt the perilous journey across the sea, illegally and without valid documents, to Europe’s Southern shores. Buy | Share

 

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Fishing boats on the Nile. Such boats frequently play host to hundreds, sometimes thousands of youngsters as they try to migrate, a lucrative business that nets boat owners huge profits. Buy | Share

 

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Young boys delight in spending endless hours diving into, and splashing around in, the Nile. These images were captured during times of play. Yet they are eerily similar to what we might expect to see them doing when trying to migrate, starting by clambering aboard the vessel for a voyage that ends with a dive into the water and a desperate swim for the shore. Many never make it to their their dream destinations alive; others are tricked, robbed and dumped back somewhere else on Egypt’s coastline. Buy | Share

 

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Fishing forms the mainstay of Borg-Meghezil’s economy, but it pays poorly and one’s earnings cannot be guaranteed. Left: Hameed – aged 30 – says his father died when he was young, forcing him to leave school and work. Though he joined the fishing industry initially, he was unable to earn enough and therefore chose to try his luck illegally in Europe. After failing to find work in Italy, he travelled across the Schengen region to France, from where he again took a great risk in stowing away to the UK in a Sudanese boat carrying vegetables. He eventually found employment in Ireland. Right: As fishermen bring in the night’s catch in the background, Mousa – aged 32 – speaks of the “better life than this” that he pursued as a fisherman in Italy, after migrating there illegally. “Everything is better there”, he insists. “Here, people don’t have a source of income at all”. Nine years ago, the trip cost him US$ 4,000, an amount he felt would have been grossly inadequate if he had put it aside for his future marriage. Nowadays, the sum one must pay for this transit is closer to US$ 11,000, yet because he sees young men’s options as so inferior in Egypt compared to Italy, he says he will encourage his son to travel in a similar way, whatever the risks. Buy | Share

 

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Ali does not regret that his son has migrated illegally to Italy. He says, “my son didn’t want to travel and I didn’t ask him to travel, but the situation being the way it is doesn’t give us any choice. I’m sick. I have Hepatitis C and I can’t work, so what am I supposed to do? Anyone who can travel will travel. This is the situation we’re living in”. Buy | Share

 

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Hassan (left) and Nageya (right) knew their son Mahmoud wanted to migrate in order to find well-paid work, buy they wanted him to complete his schooling, secure a diploma and then leave with the correct legal papers in hand. However, Nageya says that because of their financial situation, he wanted to go without burdening them with any financial obligations. “He left without saying where he was going”, she tearfully recalls. “He just said he was going to the bridge to meet his friends”. “That night”, adds Hassan, “he called his cousin and said that he was at sea on a boat”. The boat, they eventually found out, later ran aground before even getting out of Egyptian waters. They don’t know whether or not Mahmoud survived the accident; they have searched for him relentlessly, so far without success. Buy | Share

 

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As Mahmoud’s case shows, irregular migration is a potentially perilous pursuit. Other scenarios, such as suffocation among the hundreds crammed into the boats below decks, or drowning on the final night time swim for the shoreline, are also common. Even where youngsters make it across the Mediterranean successfully, they frequently fail to find decent work in Europe, owing to their status without papers. Thanks to generous funding by the EU, however, Save the Children (UK) and their Egyptian partner NGO, the Youth Association for Population and Development (YAPD), have begun training local community members to spread awareness of the dangers. Wafdeya and Samar (left) are now taking this campaign to the doorsteps in Borg-Meghezil. According to Samar (on the right), although it is typically only males who migrate, the practice is adversely affecting both genders, and as a woman this is a message she’s especially anxious to convey. In particular, she explains that marriage is becoming far costlier, threatening to bankrupt families. During the arrangements for a marriage, the bride’s family may ask for a bigger apartment and a lot more money where the groom is a returned migrant, owing to the assumption that working in Europe brings riches. The flipside is that if they ask for more in this way, they will probably be required to give more expensive gold accessories and electrical items in return. Mohamed (right) is another who is actively working on this issue. He is the General Manager of the local branch of an organisation called the Social Solidarity NGO. Pointing to the lack of job opportunities in the area, he suggests that migrant recipient countries should be encouraged to invest in building and recruiting for factories here. Another idea he has is to encourage investment in a commercial harbour for Rashid (Rosetta) like the one in Alexandria, as this too could create many job opportunities and in turn attract further investment to the region. As part of its efforts to identify credible alternatives to irregular migration, Save the Children is promoting investment in Rashid’s tourist potential to corporate social responsibility (CSR) professionals. For more on this, see my photo essay entitled ‘Irregular migration, an alternative through CSR (Save the Children)‘. Buy | Share

 

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While such alternatives will take time and money to develop, Save the Children and YAPD are happy to report that they are beginning to make inroads into children’s perception of irregular migration. These drawings were entered into a competition that sought an illustration for a poster that would highlight how risky travelling like this can be. One little boy told me that “even if I’m living a very hard life, I won’t do it because the money I’d get out of it would be haraam (forbidden)”. Buy | Share

 

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This is unfortunately by no means the majority opinion yet, and while young people are generally aware of the risks, they will keep trying to migrate illegally until realistic alternatives emerge. However, Save the Children has already brought a number of CEOs and CSR professionals from both national and international companies together at a conference in Cairo to talk seriously about what they can do to change this picture. Consequently, we can be very hopeful that by the time these three infants reach their early teens, they will have better options closer to home. Buy | Share

Irregular Migration, an Alternative Through CSR (Save the Children)

 Historic Rashid, or Rosetta as it has been known in the West since Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign in Egypt, lies close to one of the points where the River Nile meets the Mediterranean Sea. The mighty Nile splits into multiple branches in its delta stage, and none of these is very wide. Consequently, Rashid is within very easy reach of the village of Borg-Meghezil, the setting for my photo essay entitled ‘Irregular migration, the problem (Save the Children)’. Small boats ply all day long from one bank to the other. This ease of access arguably places the town top of the list of places to seek an alternative to the risky and potentially financially crippling practice of undocumented migration and the associated problem of human trafficking.

With meaningful corporate investment, the tourist industry could provide one very compelling alternative in this region. Currently, Rashid – whose economy is based on rice growing, rice milling, fishing and fish curing – feels to the tourist like an undiscovered gem. The message of this photo essay, constructed from material gathered for the Irregular Migration of Minors programme of Save the Children (UK)’s Egypt office, is that corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives that seek to develop tourism here could generate fantastic employment opportunities, providing an incentive for would-be migrants to stay home, complete their education and step into decently paid jobs as tour operators and guides, hotel and restaurant workers, drivers, etc.

Almost all of the images below, along with others from the same series, may be purchased as beautiful colour prints, licensed for download or shared via social media platforms. To make your selection, just click on the ‘Buy | Share’ link at the end of any of the captions, or directly on any image, and you will be taken to the gallery entitled ‘Irregular migration, an alternative through CSR (Save the Children)’ in my Image Archive.

 

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Left: A mere ten-minute boat journey across the Nile brings residents of Borg-Meghezil to the historic port city of Rashid. Tourists can also access the city with ease, as it lies just 65 km (40 miles) from the popular seaside city of Alexandria. Right: Getting closer to Rashid reveals its picturesque waterfront. This is the view that tourists who take a boat trip along the Nile could take away with them. Buy | Share

 

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Left: Two young boys, proud of their heritage, stand among the historic buildings of Rashid. Though very close to Alexandria, Rashid offers tourists a very different experience, making it a great side trip. Its boom period came under the Ottomans, who conquered Egypt in 1517, after which Alexandria fell into decline. The Ottomans left behind a legacy of charming mansions, which have been lovingly restored in recent years. Right: Ramadan House, built in the 18th Century, is a beautiful example of this architecture. As one wonders the streets of Rashid, one may be forgiven for feeling that one is walking through an outdoor museum. Buy | Share

 

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Yet the insides of these buildings are well worth exploring, too. Most are open to the public, but currently lack knowledgeable local guides to take tourists around and explain their history. Left: Shards of light pour into one of the rooms in the House of Amasyali, built in 1808, as an officer of the Tourist Police shows two tourists around its reception room. The house was built by Agha al-Togpi, who served in the Ottoman army, though it takes its name from al-Amasyali who occupied it after his master. In this particular room, male guests were entertained by musicians, while female visitors could watch the performance from behind a screened wooden gallery above, out of the men’s sight. In addition to knowledgeable and bilingual local guides, the experience of this house could really be brought to life by musicians in period costume acting out a typical performance for men to watch from below and women from above, as in the house’s heyday. Right: Next door is the House of Abu Shaheen, or Mill House, whose animal-operated mill (pictured here) has been carefully reconstructed. Buy | Share

 

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Rashid is not only about history; it is very much a living city. Its market is bustling and colourful, a delight for those tourists who like to indulge all their senses. Left: A local woman on a shopping mission. Right: A shopkeeper stands proud, surrounded by multiple bags of nuts, spices and other ingredients. Buy | Share

 

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Left: In Rashid market, one can pick out a tasty looking fish, fresh from being caught in the nearby Mediterranean that morning, and have it grilled in a delicious and fragrant coating right before one’s eyes. Right: Making konafa. This is a sweet made from pastry so fine it looks like vermicelli. After this stage, it gets stuffed with either mixed nuts and raisins or ricotta cheese, before being covered with a sweet syrup. It’s especially popular during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when it is served up at the end of the evening iftar dinner. Buy | Share

 

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Another tasty treat, katayef (‘Lebanese pancakes’), made right in front of shoppers once again (perhaps painfully, for the hungry little boy on the right!), and served up with a smile. A tour of the culinary offerings of this market, with explanations about the origins of particular foods and when and how they are eaten, accompanied by the opportunity to taste different items, could prove especially popular with international tourists. Buy | Share

 

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Rashid, or perhaps one should say ‘Rosetta’, is perhaps best known for being the place where the ‘Rosetta Stone’ was discovered. It was unearthed at Fort Julien by French soldiers in 1799 as they were repairing its defences, and ultimately helped Egyptologists break the code of hieroglyphics. It was inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V, and appears in three scripts: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, demotic script and Ancient Greek. The original stone was carted off to the British Museum in London after British troops defeated the French in Egypt in 1801, and is now that museum’s most-visited object. Egypt has requested the repatriation of the stone; for now, visitors to Fort Julien can at least view a replica. Left: Looking out on the Nile through one of the fort’s arrowslits. This place – also known by some as the Fort of Qaitbay after the Mamluk Sultan Qait Bey, who also built the Citadel of Qaitbay in Alexandria – lies within easy reach of Rashid’s town centre, and gives the perfect excuse to hail one of its colourful green and yellow cabs (right). Buy | Share

 

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Another short cab or felucca (traditional boat) ride brings the visitor to Abu Mandour Mosque (left), situated 5 km (3 miles) south of the town in a tranquil and pretty spot on the bank of the Nile. The mosque was built by an Islamic sect that made its home here, and named after a holy dervish. Right: A friendly young boy and his family donkey help bring an ailing grandfather home from the mosque, following midday prayers during Ramadan. Buy | Share

 

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True believers say that their saint continues to support the mountains of sand that rise above Abu Mandour Mosque. Climbing the hill rewards tourists with magnificent views of the mosque (left), and – in the opposite direction – the town, and there is also a fascinating graveyard to explore. If one comes here during the time of the call to prayer, one can seemingly hear all of Rashid’s mosques at once, a haunting and beautiful experience. The rest of the time, it is a very peaceful place. The sand here contains a lot of pottery, thought to date from pharaonic times, and gold coins and earthen lamp stands have been excavated here, too. The hill has been dubbed ‘the hill of happiness’, the thought of which perhaps makes it an especially appealing place to say one’s prayers (right). Buy | Share

 

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Hopping back in the taxi for another short drive brings one to the unspoiled Masyaf Rashid Beach, characterised by beautiful golden sand that stretches for kilometres. Left: Feeling the freedom here, a tourist jumps for joy. Right: After a long day taking in Rashid’s sights and sounds (and also its tastes and smells!), a young woman relishes the opportunity to dip her toes in the inviting sea. Buy | Share

 

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The welcoming people of Rashid are ready to open their arms to tourists. Left: En route to a wedding, a guest calls out excitedly to visitors to his town, and is thrilled to be photographed. Right: While gathering for noon prayers in an Ottoman era mosque, these menfolk are similarly all smiles when asked to be photographed. Rashid’s people are waiting, and its history and beautiful surroundings are calling. All the town needs to place itself firmly on Egypt’s tourist map is a properly trained tourism and hospitality workforce, together with investment in developing tourist facilities. While Egypt’s post-revolution government remains financially stretched, this represents a tremendous CSR opportunity for any domestic or international medium- or large-sized corporation. Buy | Share