CAIRO (Reuters) - President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday pledged more jobs for Egyptians to help dissuade them from making dangerous voyages to Europe after more than 160 migrants died when a boat capsized off the country’s Mediterranean coast.
Rescue workers and fisherman recovered five more bodies on Sunday, taking the death toll in the Sept. 21 shipwreck to 169, with another 169 migrants having been rescued.
Security sources and the state MENA news agency initially said up to 600 people may have been abroad the boat, suggesting hundreds more may be lost at sea. But some survivors have estimated the number of people on the vessel at closer to 400.
Survivors and their families said poverty and a lack of jobs and opportunity along with political repression in Egypt have driven thousands to embark on perilous journeys in rickety boats across the Mediterranean to Europe.
More and more migrants have been trying to cross to Italy from the African coast over the summer months, particularly from Libya, where people-traffickers operate with relative impunity. But boats have increasingly departed from Egypt as Libya has slid deeper into anarchy.
Speaking at the opening of a housing project in the coastal city of Alexandria, Sisi said there was no “justification or excuse” for the loss of life in last week’s shipwreck but that securing the coastline and borders was a tough challenge.
He said factories and fisheries were being built in the Kafr al-Sheikh area, from where the doomed boat departed, to create jobs and hope for locals. Kafr al-Sheikh, in Egypt’s Nile Delta, has emerged as a hub for a trade smuggling migrants to Europe.
“There is hope .. especially in this place where the migrant boat sank, but we can’t overcome all obstacles and put an end to them in one, two or four years,” Sisi said.
“A project will be set up for fish farming. It may be the largest in Egypt, but putting a project into action takes time.”
About 400 people gathered on Monday on the shores of Burg Rashid, near where the boat capsized, waiting for the bodies of about 50 missing Egyptians to be recovered, a Reuters witness said. It was not clear how many non-Egyptians remained missing but the International Organization for Migration has said the migrants included Sudanese, Ethiopians and Eritreans.
As he waited on the coast with other relatives of missing people, one man suddenly cried out ”Allahu Akbar (“God is Greatest)” after his son phoned him to say he had made it across to Italy aboard another boat. The father had feared his son was among those killed in the shipwreck.
The IOM says more than 3,200 migrants have died while trying to traverse the Mediterranean this year, while nearly 300,000 had reached European shores safely. More than 1 million migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East entered Europe last year.
Reprting by Ahmed Tolba and Amina Ismail; writing by Ola Noureldin; editing by Mark Heinrich