Egyptian rescue workers have recovered the wreckage of a vessel that capsized six days ago in Mediterranean waters with hundreds of migrants on board.
Reported by the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper, the recovery comes despite rescue workers having known the boat’s location to be not far off the Egyptian shoreline.
Officials expect the death toll to climb, holding the belief that many more bodies are trapped under the vessel. In its latest press release, Egypt’s Health Ministry has confirmed 184 were killed in the accident, while Reuters has cited rescue workers to put the number at 194.
The vessel capsized Wednesday night in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Rashid. The state-owned Middle East News Agency reported that there were 600 people on board upon disembarkment. However, the UNHCR and eyewitnesses place the number closer to 450.
Mohamed Kashef, a researcher on migrant movements at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), told Mada Masr that the emergency response reportedly was severely delayed, even though the boat had overturned only 12 kilometers off of the Egyptian coast.
As the boat was sinking at around 4 am, migrants on board contacted state rescue services by phone, according to Kashef. However, Egyptian emergency response teams did not arrive in the area until 11 am, nearly seven hours after the initial distress calls were made. Rashid residents told Kashef that local fishermen rather than state respondents rescued many of the migrants thrown into the water.
The Egyptian government’s response to the crisis has been marked by delays, as it did not make an official statement on the accident until four days after the vessel capsized.
President Abdel Fattah Sisi commented on the incident for the first time in a speech given on Sunday, during which he offered his condolences but expressed confusion as to why Egyptian migrants would want to leave the country.
“Why would we try this? To leave our country? Is there not work here? Fine, I am telling you – I swear to God t– here is work,” Sisi said, as he went on to promise that he would invest in development projects to provide employment opportunities to young Egyptians.
Unemployment is endemic in Egypt. The most recently published unemployment figures put the rate at 12.7 percent, according to the state’s statistics agency, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics. The youth demographic is the hardest hit, with the unemployment rate at 31.3 percent for people aged 25-29 and at 27.3 for the 15-29 age bracket.
There has been an increasing number of Egyptians crossing the Mediterranean Sea to seek better opportunities in Europe. UNCHR data has shown that, while in 2015 there were 344 Egyptians who attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, there have been 2,634 people who have attempted the journey in 2016. Egyptians are now one of the top ten nationalities crossing the central Mediterranean to Italy, amid worsening political and economic conditions in their country.