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Europe and those Arabs (3): Migrating for a lonely death - Daily News Egypt

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Europe and those Arabs (3): Migrating for a lonely death

In 2007, mid-production of a documentary film of mine called Back in a Coffin discussing the phenomenon of illegal migration from Egypt to Italy on what is tragically called death boats, I learned about real human beings, not just a media exaggeration to sell a story to the public. In a village called Tatoon in …

Maher Hamoud
Maher Hamoud

In 2007, mid-production of a documentary film of mine called Back in a Coffin discussing the phenomenon of illegal migration from Egypt to Italy on what is tragically called death boats, I learned about real human beings, not just a media exaggeration to sell a story to the public.

In a village called Tatoon in Egypt’s Fayoum, a man in his early 30s with a high school degree in vocational education, agreed to be interviewed in front of a camera and tell me his story. He was manically obsessed with the idea of leaving Egypt to Italy by whatever means possible. The desperate young man had already tried twice before, but he was sent back to Egypt by the Italian authorities after he was rescued following the drowning of his boat. He was among those who luckily survived, while others did neither to Italy nor back home.

According to some sources I talked to in the village, a trip like this would cost in 2007, between EGP 30,000 and 50,000. Our fearless young man did it twice and was working on the third attempt, saying to me: “Egypt did nothing for me, and I have nothing here to stay for.”

Another story that I witnessed in a Brussels clinic a few weeks ago, might show us a probable future forecast for the life our fearless Egyptian.  If he could make it to the other side of the Mediterranean and was “lucky” to secure a job as construction worker or a cleaning person in Europe for the next 30 years.  Lets hypothetically assume that it is the same person I met in Brussels.

A man in his early 60s, extremely physically weak as if he were 80 or 90, being slowly walked into the waiting room by a son in his early 20s wearing a New York cap on his head on a sunless day, like most days of central Europe. The son seated his father and, in a Moroccan Arabic dialect, which I tend to understand no more than 50 percent of, I understood enough to know clearly that the son had to leave the father and go back to work as his lunch break was almost over. And the son simply went away, leaving the very sick father behind.

Later while I was waiting in the same room, as I was only there for a bureaucratic question still unanswered till today, one of the clinic’s employees came to the old man, who I believe was in the last days of his life, and tried to help. The man looked at her to his side and said something in French that I did not understand – neither did the employee, I guess. Then he looked straight ahead staring at the absolute with empty eyes and started to softly mumble in Moroccan Arabic. I still did not understand everything, but he repeated words and phrases like “God, son, a few days, thanks to God and we’re all leaving taking nothing with us.”

A younger Moroccan patient tried to help communicate, but it was pointless.  The very sick old man stood up with the help of his cane and slowly walked away, leaving the clinic and ignoring the employee and his fellow Moroccan migrant. He simply disappeared after the door closed, the other Moroccan went back to his seat waiting for his turn, and the lady employee went to check on another patient.

Simply put, life went on and unsurprisingly the universe did not stop mourning the old depressed helpless Moroccan, who I compare so much with what the young Egyptian of 2007 could be in the future. If he had managed to land in Italy’s Lampedusa, survived the detention camp of illegal migrants by the coast, and miraculously let free to access inland Europe in order to apply for a low-skill job that everyone needs, but none wants to do.

Our depressed young Egyptian spent between EGP 90,000 and 150,000 in order to live somewhere else, also depressed but differently. In my opinion, it is actually even worse a life, as he would lose the only thing that could still be positive in his poor village – which is social solidarity and family commitment that many Europeans have no time for.

Ironically, such an amount of money, which could have been more than enough to start a very well-funded small business, he absurdly spent risking his life to the extreme, in order to live as a social outcast in a foreign environment that does not accept him and let him be left alone in a clinic by his own son that is no longer an Arab, nor a Belgian.

Observing Arabs who stayed decades of their lives in Europe, I rarely see happiness. Mainly deep depression and painful nostalgia, wrapped by exaggerated comments on life back home, which they consider “unlivable”. They smartly convince themselves that there was no other option and that migration was the only solution. I think they repeat this over and over to themselves before others, just in order to survive the life they chose for themselves stuck between the two worlds, north and south of the Mediterranean, as if they are still on one of the death boats that did not drown.

Generally, migration in theory is not necessarily a good or a bad choice; it is a significant change in life that can be for the better or the worse. I actually believe that freedom of people’s mobility is good for humanity in the long-term. However, migration on only poorly founded absurd economic reasons is a waste of human life.

Maybe someone, who randomly has passion for marine biology in a country that has no access to a sea, does not need a lot of thinking to decide where to spend the rest of his life. Maybe another person with controversial views in countries such as in the Arab World, where freedom of expression varies between nonexistent  to highly violated in the best scenario, has all the reasons to immediately migrate to a safer place and save her or his own life. And yes, Europe with all its imperfections is still relatively the safest place for such kind of endangered individuals. But how many of the Arab migrants to Europe had to do it for political reasons, or to work in marine biology? I believe a microscopic portion of them.

As a side note, under 4% of expatriate Egyptians cared to vote in the last presidential elections, which I assume is an indicator that the reason for migration was mainly economic, not political.

I believe, if I am an apolitical Arab with economic hardship having to choose between staying home trying to survive among my people or migrating to a country in order to dig holes for their sewer system and be left to die lonely by my New-York-cap son, I would prefer to die in my poor village among my people watching a documentary on Europe’s unemployment and failure of the cultural assimilation project.

Maher Hamoud is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Daily News Egypt, and currently Media Politics Analyst. He can be followed on Twitter @MaherHamoud1, his public page on Facebook, or email:maher.hamoud1@gmail.com

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  • Ta7ya el ummah el 3arabiya

    LOL. Bravo!

    Excellent piece and very realistic.

    Why is it that Arabs prefer to live in denial in Western misery yet verbally abuse their MOTHERland?

    I believe actually that one of the greatest flaws of Arabic culture is that it provides too much space for self-criticism. And that these people will one day believe the bologna that spews from their mouths and actually pick up and move their families halfway across the world to a country that actually requires more effort for less reward. And like our miserable friend in the example above, had he not spent his fortune on a delusional dream life in the West, he could have funded a few SME’s actually and made something of a hero of himself amongst his own countrymen.

    • AgnosticEgyptian

      On the contrary, I don’t think Arabs criticize themselves enough.

      • Ta7ya el ummah el 3arabiya

        See what I mean….

    • Capri59

      I totally agree. I needed US$15,000.00 to come to Canada with my family. US$$$! And then we came and spent it all here hoping that I could find a professional job. I could have built a rental home in a small town or started a small business. We have a KiSwahili saying that regrets are like grandchildren: they come later on in life. But seriously, all countries of Africa and the Middle East are poised for growth and opportunities. We have to find them and stop fighting over God. There is only one God. People can kill each other until they are finished but there will remain only one God.

  • sam enslow

    Everyday I am asked by Egyptians how to get a Green Card for America. It is their dream to live a life they see in television sit-coms. They will do “any job” which means they do not have the skills to do any job. Most speak little English and read none. I explain to them thatif they actually got to the US their dream would turn into a nightmare. They never believe me. They want to believe there are secret ways to get to America without going through proper channels and fail to see that those who manage toi pass through the system are the ones who have a chance to make it in America. The immgration requirements are not there to prevent Arabs, Muslims, or any group from going to America. They are designed to suit all countries and to prevent situations with terrible endings.
    To leave ones country and live in another is very difficult.”When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” is sometimes very difficult. What were problems at home become fond memories. Egyptians often miss “Egyptian drama” and other aspects of life. Ramadan is missed in a country that doesn’t celebrate it’ for example. Small differences and confusions about what do do, how to do, what is proper, what is expected etc. make everyday life harder.
    Egypt needs to address many economic, social, and political problems as do all other nations. I believe many Egyptians would be surprised to learn that America faces many of the same problems, jobs for the less skilled, for example. Income inequality for another. Life in the US is no more the life of the televison sit-com than the life in Egypt is that seen by the visiting tourist. Problems exist everywhere. They are only solved, if possible, when they are recognized. To pretend all is wonderful and not face and discuss problems only makes them fester. ‘I love Egypt, but Egypt doesn’t love me.” is a common phrase. Hope for a brighter future, not a stick or empty phrases, will end most illegal emigration. The 25 January Revolution was all about HOPE.

  • Capri59

    Africans do the same too. We think we can come and work in these “democratic” countries where everyone gets a chance!! Little do we know that they look at our last names first before hiring. Recently they tortured a Ghanaian man with a PHD to drive to Quebec City for an interview in winter. he left his house at 3: 00 am to be there at 9:00 a.m. They had tried for so long to get anyone with his qualifications but there was none. Yet after that interview they never called him. He had to call them himself after 3 weeks. I have not had a job here for years even though I have a master’s degree…I am in a wheelchair so I cannot clean hospitals like many immigrants or drive a taxi. I see many African men in summer talking to themselves: they are crazy, their wives have left them and they are homeless and depressed. That is what the west does to many Africans and Arabs. They make life so hard and we are ashamed to return home with empty hands.

    • sam enslow

      That is what happens to many who are from the West. The PhD or MD degree may nt be recognized by the Canadan government or other requirements may not have bee met. There are many Egyptian doctors in Canada, but it is not easy to be quaified.
      There was an essay in this paper by a man with a university degree who wanted to study in England. He found out his degree gave him a UK high school education. He returned to Egypt to work on improving the educational system there.
      Maybe a victimhood attitude is what is keeping you from finding a job.

      • Capri59

        Victim attitude? How would you know that from one paragraph? BTW, my Masters degree is from Canada. Or was…I got it in 1991. Come to the west and sell Pizzas or drive taxis, if not working as cleaners. That’s what many immigrants do. Whatever degree you have, they look at your last name. Our education systems in Africa are fine because even here I see gaps in their education systems too. But money gives people power over their lives and many immigrants are denied even that. Unless they come from Europe, then they get the best jobs within 3 months.

        • Egypt loves Africa

          Capri is right in that Africa’s education is just fine and that discrimination is more subtle yet malicious in today’s west than say during the days of Apartheid S. Africa or 1950’s America. Nevertheless, Sam means to empower Capri to be able to rise above said limitations with an attitude that soars above noticing these things.
          Both gentleman’s points have deep validity and you two would be dear friends if you sat down together over apple-flavored shisha.

          • Capri59

            Hahaha! Egypt loves Africa…..I am a woman! 55 years old. And I am planning to return to Kenya soon. I should never have left my public service job in the first place, but all Africans imagine that we will get the same consideration abroad that we give other professional people in Africa. There are a lot of opportunities in Africa and with Europe in recession and America at war with everyone else, we can take them up in all countries of Africa. Do not leave them for Europeans. They are rushing to Africa in droves because the austerity measures have made life impossible in their own countries. As an Economist, what I suggest that more people in Africa begin recruitment firms where they can identify skills and opportunities. That is how Europeans and Americans keep themselves supplied with good paying jobs while Arabs and Africans do trial and error. Begin those firms. We can play their game and keep our people in good jobs. Nobody likes to live in misery in unfriendly Western Countries. We need to go home. We need the sunshine and the laughter and the unconditional acceptance.

          • Egypt loves Africa

            Point very well taken! 🙂

  • Jane Seymour

    You paint a very black picture, and I speak from experience through the eyes of my Egyptian/Australian husband, who loves his life in Sydney more than one can imagine. In fact, I wanted to return to Egypt some 14 yrs ago, he unhappily agreed, the first few years were ok for both of us, but the social injustice, corruption, lack of a system, insecurity has encouraged us to go ‘home’, Australia is the opposite of all of these negatives, however my husband speaks good English, well educated but, most importantly fits in with the Australian society, he has little interest in being part of the Egyptian community, only a few family members and friends. We notice those that are unhappy in Australia which by the way are very few, live in their own communities, and do not try to even fit in with the Aussie lifestyle.

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