CAIRO — Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi ordered the tightening of border security after more than 160 mainly Egyptian migrants died when their Europe-bound boat sank in the Mediterranean, a tragedy that highlighted the extent of Egypt’s economic woes.
Presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef, in a statement issued late Saturday, said el-Sissi had also ordered during a meeting with top aides that those behind the tragedy be brought to justice.
Authorities last week arrested four members of the doomed boat’s crew and said they had issued arrest warrants for five more people. However, there have been no known arrests of members of the organized crime rings behind the human trafficking rife on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast.
El-Sissi has also urged parliament and the government to work together to issue legislation combating illegal migration. He also directed his aides to accelerate a government program offering assistance to small businesses and young entrepreneurs in areas where illegal migration is rampant.
The boat sank Wednesday off the Egyptian coastal town of Rosetta. At least 162 bodies were later recovered and another 160 migrants rescued.
The EU border agency, Frontex, recently said more than 12,000 migrants arrived in Italy from Egypt between January and September this year, compared to 7,000 in the same period last year.
Many of the Egyptians who were on board the boat were unescorted minors or single men in their early 20s. The fact that they were willing to risk their lives to reach Europe has brought into focus Egypt’s harsh economic realities, with many of the country’s 91 million people struggling to cope with double digit unemployment and rising inflation among a host of economic woes.
Many of the survivors said they were leaving to find jobs and better lives in Europe.
The tragedy led to criticism of the government, both for failing to disrupt the country’s thriving human trafficking rings and for initially remaining silent as the scope of the tragedy slowly emerged.