Egyptian travellers under the age of 18 will require an adult companion or prior security clearance to depart from one of the country’s airports from January 1, its flagship airline EgyptAir said on Saturday.
The decision is a bid to curb illegal immigration and human trafficking.
Under-18s must now submit a formal request with the country’s passport authority in the presence of their parent or guardian.
The request will then be investigated and the criminal record of the applicant will be reviewed, EgyptAir said.
Based on the investigation, the applicant will either be approved or not.
Underage travellers on sports teams will not need to submit a form provided their clubs have completed the necessary procedures for their travel.
Immigration to EU
The new rule is in place “within the framework of combating illegal immigration and human trafficking” and comes as EU countries seek to curb the flow of people from North Africa.
European countries received 330,000 illegal migrants in 2022, the highest rate since 2016, according to data from Frontex, the EU border agency.
Egyptians made up the highest national group of illegal migrants to Europe who arrived through the central Mediterranean route, which was used by over 100,000 migrants in 2022, Frontex said.
Most illegal migrants embark on boats to Europe that depart from either Libyan or Turkish ports which they first travel to by plane, according to a July 2022 report by the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA).
Curbing illegal migration has been an important point of co-operation between the administration of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the Egyptian military and the EU.
EU countries have provided around €111 million to Egypt through projects aimed at curbing immigration, according to the head of the EU Delegation to Egypt, Christian Berger.
The main European destination for Egyptians is Italy, where one in three illegal migrant arrivals were Egyptian, according to a 2022 UNHCR report.
Many Egyptians travel to Europe via Libya. In January 2022, 117,156 Egyptian migrants were recorded in Libya, according to a survey by the International Organisation for Migration, or IOM, which said that they made up the second largest national group – around 18 per cent – of Libya’s total migrants.
While the majority remain in Libya temporarily until their travel to Europe can be arranged, others stay in Libya looking for jobs in the country’s petroleum sector. Forty per cent of those polled by the IOM said they had been in Libya for over two years.
Many Egyptians who reach Europe aim to travel to the UK. Egyptians are thought to make up some of the 71,000 people who arrived in boats across the English Channel in 2022.
While on a visit to Cairo earlier this month for talks on the war in Gaza, UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron outlined the importance of further co-operation between the UK and Egypt to curb illegal immigration during a press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry.
Economic woes driving emigration
Mr Shoukry announced that the Egyptian government plans to launch domestic development programmes to ensure Egyptians have more incentive to remain in Egypt.
The increase in migration by Egyptians is “influenced primarily by economic factors and the search for employment,” the EUAA said.
Egypt’s economy has been in dire straits amid a dollar crunch that has shut down most of the country’s import-reliant industries.
The Egyptian government launched in 2019 the “Lifeboats Initiative”, aiming to raise awareness of the dangers of illegal immigration.
The project also highlighted the procedures Egyptians can use to depart through legal channels. Egyptians seeking asylum in European countries in 2022 reached their highest levels since 2014, according to the EUAA, which said that 24 per cent were approved in the first quarter of 2022.
Departures from Egypt dropped in 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, but illegal migration has since risen in 2021 and 2022.
Protecting its borders against migrants is a top priority for the European Commission in 2024, according to a letter sent in October by President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen to the European Council and published by civil liberties monitor Statewatch.
The letter outlines a plan to increase co-operation with the commission’s regional partners on illegal migration, Egypt and Tunisia, and to provide their militaries with “search and rescue vessels” to be used to monitor the Mediterranean coastline for migrant boats.
Rights groups have continuously raised the alarm about conditions that migrants are subjected to when they are apprehended by regional militaries and held in detention centres until they can be processed or extradited to their home countries.