Among the Egyptian boat people who drowned off the Turkish coast last month, three are missing
In a sad, agonising scene, the village of Manhari in Minya, Upper Egypt, paid its last respects to five of its young men who had drowned in the Aegean Sea off the Turkish coast last month. Aziz Salama, Hanna Youssef, Fadl Labib, Gamil Marzouq, and Emad Eid had been among 90 boat people heading for Greece, chasing a dream of a better life. Their funeral was held last month in the church of Manhari, with Minya Archbishop Anba Arsanious and his deputy Bishop Makarious presiding over the ceremony.
To the tolling of the church bells, the sad procession of deacons carrying black banners marched in front of some 7000 villagers who navigated the village streets with the caskets, stopping for a few minutes before every home of the deceased, to the church. Grief enveloped the entire village. Anba Makarious said that, despite misconceptions and miscalculations about illegal immigration, these young men had been hard workers who were willing to overcome whatever obstacles stood in the path of attaining a better life for themselves and their families.
Would do it again
The families of the young men said their sons had fallen prey to illegal immigration gangs who promised to take them to Greek shores at the staggering cost of LE60,000. The young men went into debt to collect these sums, and even though they realised there were hazards involved, they embarked on the travel project hoping to make a fortune abroad. “Other young men had left [legally] and came back with money enough to buy homes and raise families comfortably,” Umm Sherif, an old woman from the village said.
Medhat Shukry is one of the lucky men who were able to travel legally to Greece three years ago. He told Watani that illegal immigrants go to Greece via Syria and Turkey. En route, he said, they get rid of all their official papers, in an effort to mask their identity so as not to be deported once they arrive. In Greece they are detained by the authorities for one to three months, after which they are granted temporary residence permits. They work at menial jobs which require no skills, and can only go back home if they manage to legalise their stay. This, he explained, usually takes no less than three years.
Another villager said the young people left because they could find no work at home. “It is the government that is responsible for their dire fate, he said. What happened will not deter others from attempting illegal immigration again as long as there is no work here.”
But the agony of Manhari is not over. Five young men are surely dead and their bodies buried, but the fate of three others is still not known. Bishoi Hanna, Ishaq Istafanous, and Ramez Abdel-Shaheed were also among the passengers on that fateful journey, and are still missing.
The priest of the village church Father Bola Yacoub accompanied the relatives of the missing young men to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo to enquire about them. After contacting their Turkish counterparts the officials at the ministry informed the Manharis that no other bodies had been found and that there was no further information available. But, Fr Bola told Watani, some of the village youth were able to track pictures of survivors posted on the Internet site www.elraynews.com on 14 December. They claim that at least two of the pictures posted bore strong resemblance to Istafanos and Hanna, while Hanna’s brother Ramzy claims that al-Jazeera aired news that some illegal immigrants were found boarding a vehicle in Turkey and have been detained in prison there. He strongly believes his brother may be one of the detainees, and demands that the Foreign Affairs Ministry should investigate the matter.