Egyptian unaccompanied minors account for 25% of illegal immigrants in Italy. The 2010 statistics from the Committee for Foreign Children Affairs in Italy generated the “Baladna Awla Beweladna” (Our Children for our Country) project, which held a press conference on Wednesday after operating for almost three years.
The project is a product of collaboration between the Youth Association for Population and Development (YAPD) and the NGO, Save the Children. The project aims to decrease the number of unaccompanied Egyptian minors exploited through the illegal immigration to Europe and raise awareness on the matter.
The project’s starting point was in Rome, Milan, and other Italian cities with the highest numbers of Egyptian minors. According to field research conducted by Save the Children, immigrant minors face a number of problems, including integration into the European society and an inability to return to Egypt before turning 18.
The project leaders asserted that the Child Law in Italy does not give attention to the issue of immigrant minors. “They get drained from work [in Italy] more than in Egypt,” said Hesham Al-Roubi, one of the founders of YAPD.
In 2011, the project plan was implemented in the Alexandria, Beheira, Gharbeya and Assiut governorates, “where there are entire villages with nobody from this generation [aged 13 to 18]; only older men, women and babies,” said Sara Harb, one of the project members. “They do not know what dreams are. Their families treat them like tools [for obtaining money]; if they die, they just have other children.”
The project generated more than 70 awareness campaigns, directly affecting 44,000 people through NGOs, schools, youth centres, religious figures and streets. The project awarded special attention to the families who send their children to Europe and refrain from considering the dangers of the journey or the living conditions in the country to which they are immigrating.
Finding solutions for the problem was also part of the project’s mission. They conducted sessions for the development of personal and computer skills; subsequently, trained youth led the sessions themselves.
“This is what we are depending on after the project ends on 30 June,” said Haytham Al-Qadi, the project’s leader in Italy.
“Baladna Awla Beweladna” will create an online radio programme, mobile theater and cultural salon for spreading more awareness.
The project leaders also organised employment fairs with several companies, such as Microsoft, that are still taking place in several governorates. They also follow up with the trained youth who applied to the companies to find out whether they were accepted as well as the reasons for rejection in order to further improve the training programme.
The training sessions, conferences, fairs and all aspects of the project were run by the youth, who were thus more able to influence their peers and change their attitude towards illegal immigration; those participating in the sessions were encouraged to invest in themselves and refrain from opting for illegal immigration as a solution for unemployment, Harb asserted.
Another branch of the project involves changing various policies in Egypt through governorate laws, the Child Law, The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and other channels.
Project executive Mohamed Kamal pointed to the importance of the role the media plays to encourage such collaborations between NGOs, the government and society.
“You, the youth, are our hope,” said the representative from the Ministry of Social Solidarity, pointing to the government’s insufficiency regarding societal problems, which are covered by NGOs. The representative added that as NGOs are more able to percolate in societies, she will propose the project to the minister for implementation by other NGOs.
Save the Children was founded in 1919 and currently operates in over 120 countries. It began operating in Egypt in 1982.