Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan labor unions coordinate to evacuate workers in Libya

The Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) claimed on Wednesday that it is coordinating efforts with labor union organizations in both Libya and Tunisia, in hopes of safely evacuating Egyptian workers and returning them home.

Conflicting figures suggest that the neighboring oil-rich Libya presently hosts hundreds of thousands, perhaps up to 1 million, Egyptian employees, making it a primary employer of Egypt’s expatriated working class. There are no official statistics from the Egyptian government regarding the number of citizens working or residing in Libya.

On Wednesday, ETUF President Gebali al-Maraghi announced on the federation’s official website that he has established a joint operations room with the UTT (Union des Travailleurs Tunisiens) or Tunisian Workers’ Union, along with the National Trade Unions’ Federation in Libya.

Maraghi expressed his hopes that these Tunisian and Libyan union federations would assist Egyptian workers in safely evacuating Libya, either westward across the Tunisian border, or eastward into Egypt. 

The ETUF’s evacuation efforts come after jihadis based in Libya posted a video on Sunday of the beheading of 21 captive Coptic Christian manual laborers along a shoreline.

On Sunday night, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi delivered a televised address in which he imposed a travel ban on Egyptians going to Libya, and called for the evacuation of all Egyptians in Libya, upon their request.

However, Sisi’s airstrikes, which allegedly targeted jihadis in Eastern Libya on Monday, took place before the evacuation of Egyptians could take place. The fate of an untold number of Egyptians in Libya thus remains unknown.

Hundreds of expatriate Egyptians are reported to have been kidnapped, while tens of others are reported to have been killed since the turmoil of Libya’s armed uprising of February 17, 2011.

The ETUF, which has served as the official state-controlled union federation since its establishment in 1957, praised the military campaign of Egypt’s general-turned-president in Libya. “Salutations to the champion-leader President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi” said Maraghi.

Maraghi also praised Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Libya’s National Trade Unions’ Federation, along with the “tireless efforts of our valiant armed forces in returning our fishermen back from Libya.” 

The return of 21 Egyptian fishermen from Libya on Tuesday has been shrouded by conflicting statements. 

Initially it was reported that these fishermen were abducted by a Libyan-based jihadi group. However, Libya’s Department for Illegal Immigration reported that this group of Egyptians was detained by authorities, not kidnapped by gunmen, as a result of their illegal fishing in Libya’s territorial waters. 

The ETUF and Egypt’s Ministry of Manpower announced this week that they are working with private sector investors in hopes of providing job opportunities for the hundreds of thousands of Egyptian employees returning from Libya, after having left their jobs.

In official press statements issued on Wednesday, Minister of Manpower Nahed al-Ashry declared that she has arranged for the provision of 33,741 local job opportunities in different specializations, courtesy of businessmen and private investors, for jobless Egyptian workers returning from Libya.  

The ETUF and the Ministry of Manpower are concerned that the evacuation of large numbers of Egyptian employees from Libya will hit the country’s remittances hard.

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