Illegal immigration and the myth of easy life in the West

One hundred sixty-two people lost their lives off the Egyptian coast near the town of Rosetta on Friday. About 150 people are still unaccounted for after a boat carrying hundreds of illegal migrants capsized in the Mediterranean while attempting to head to Europe.

This tragedy, like many others in recent years, has obvious reasons, from apocalyptic wars to dire economics and suffocating political oppression. Tragedies in the midst of a search for a better life outside the Middle East, is not new. In fact, although little known, many victims of the 1912 sinking of the Titanic were Arabs. The difference between the Titanic tragedy and that in Rosetta, however, is not only in the numbers or circumstances, but also in the rationalization and mindsets. While early Arab immigrants calculated risks and tried as best as they could to prepare themselves for a life in the new world, current immigrants are fleeing based on a new level of desperation, such that they are willing to allow traffickers to exploit them.

“A boat that can take 200 had 450 or even 500 on board,” said Sarah Sirgany, in her report for CNN. Egyptians, Syrians, Sudanese and Eritreans joined together for the doomed trip. The Egyptian news portal, Al-Youm al-Sabei, published interviews with several survivors who said that before their journey the migrants had been “stored” for several days in chicken farms by the traffickers to evade police. Some of the interviewees said the traffickers asked for $6,250 per family to be given upon arrival in Italy.

Apart from the hapless political bickering between pro and anti-Egyptian president Sisi on the reasons behind illegal immigration in Egypt, we have to admit that there are also some farcical assumptions and delusions prevalent among many Egyptian youth and people that encourage them to embark on doomed trips toward the unknown.

First, the exotic dream.

Away from the cities, in rural Egypt, where radio and television is the main source of entertainment, fascinated youth watch Egyptian movies that glamorize life in the West. Take for example the film “Hamam in Amsterdam,” which describes a young, unemployed Egyptian who succeeded in building a life in the Netherlands, coming back with money and a blond wife. The film portrayed some struggles, but attributed most of the negative encounters to the “evil Zionists” who hated this Egyptian guy. These types of movies, with unchallenged narratives are enough to embed exotic dreams in youth and make the fantasy plausible in the minds of many.

Second, fatalism.

Calculating risk is generally absent from the Egyptian psyche. Even crossing the road can be an exercise in recklessness. The Arabic proverb, “Sit on a beehive and say this is fate” sums-up the mindset perfectly. Many pundits call this a backgammon mindset. Indeed Egyptians, particularly the many unemployed, do not just love to play backgammon, they have also adopted this game as a way of thinking, assuming that life is just up to one-stroke of luck. Moreover, there is a general unfounded perception among many Egyptians that success in the West can happen at a faster pace than in their native country. It makes many adopt a short-cut escalator-style mentality, wrongly assuming that all what they need is one opportunity to push them up the ladder.

Third, playing down the negative aspects of immigration.

There is a common theme prevalent among the handful of successful immigrants and the wannabe immigrants in Egypt. Both tend to paint rosy pictures about their success in the West. It is convenient and flattering to downplay the negative aspects of living in a new country. This down playing was almost non-existent in the writing of early immigrants such as by the poets Gibran Khalil Gibran and Elia Abu-Madi. Instead, they both wrote eloquently about the demoralizing impacts of immigration, and avoided giving false perceptions of an alleged paradise abroad. This trend has gradually vanished. Now, both legal and illegal immigrants, educated and uneducated tend, consciously or unconsciously, glamorize life in the West to please their own selfish ego.


The tragic deaths near the city of Rosetta should be a wake up call to everyone. The Egyptian leadership has the duty to provide youth with an incentive to stay and flourish in their homeland. Moreover, Egyptian society has to shake-up myths and assumptions about life in the Western world. Our youth must understand that handing over the live savings of their families to traffickers is a tragic waste of money and a huge risk to their life. The hope of easy sanctuary in the West is simply a mirage.


About nervana111

Doctor, blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues. The only practising doctor who write in Middle Eastern politics in UK.
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7 Responses to Illegal immigration and the myth of easy life in the West

  1. ammar says:

    She wrote, from a comfy home in the West. I don’t think anyone thinks it’s “easy,” Nervana. Just easier. And easier it certainly is.


    • nervana111 says:

      Come and live my life for just a week, and if you survived, then you can have my “comfy” home. Warning: even my own mother, my only family, could not do it. Nothing easier and nothing certain.. It can be easier in some aspects, but with a hefty price, and it is incredibly difficult in many others.

      Your delusion is arrogantly wrong..


      • Anna says:

        Hello Nervana, this is a very interesting read. I am quite surprised that even now this attitude is alive among your fellow Egyptians. I had the misconception that news about the difficult life in Europe must be well known ( e.g. racism, islamophobia, xenophobia).
        kind regards


      • nervana111 says:

        Many thanks Anna for stating the obvious, but sadly this attitude is still alive. Please look at the comment below and see how the guy is making my “comfy home”, while he is blissfully unaware of all the stuff you mentioned.


      • ammar says:

        I am a gay Muslim immigrant from Syria. I don’t have to live your life. My own life is proof enough that it’s easier, not least considering that I’ve been in the West for two years and I haven’t been homophobically beaten once yet. What nerve you have calling people whose lives and stories you don’t even know arrogant!


  2. Renard Gunter says:

    The tragedy of this myth of easy life in “the West” affects both “sides,” the immigrants, and the people of the country who receive them. The civilizations we have in the West are the culmination of hundreds of years of very hard work (indeed, sometimes slavery), many failed experiments for every successful one, dreams found in desperation, wars internal and external, and many uncounted tolls of human suffering along the way–in two words, “lives lost.” Such is our debt of gratitude to the past. No one tells this to the would-be immigrants looking to the West–America especially–and all they see is a fruitful money tree, free for the taking, fountains of wealth for everyone…and if they survive the trip, they have NO thought that “my home country is my house, and we deserve respect,” and “we are a PEOPLE country, not a money country.” Needless to say, the floods of foreign religious and political ideologies that come with the often less-educated or illiterate immigrants induces unholy conflicts with the native citizens who are over-run mercilessly–even the mercies we would show are trampled by relentless stampedes of joyous and reckless conquerors demanding that Heaven-on-earth they were promised…and in return, (if we could give them that impossible heaven), the natives are demanded to bow to religious conquests, also, and grant the “invaders” the right to commit heinous crimes in the name of their religion and/or old country’s culture. It is a matter of time that the natives MUST arise and make war on the poor, deluded and suffering immigrants, lest their homeland, like a boat greatly overloaded with tumultuous voyagers, capsize..again, many innocents on both sides suffer horribly for the misdeeds of a few….and this is only a glance at the tragedy of miscalculated and misguided immigration.


  3. Pingback: by Dr Nervana Mahmoud Illegal immigration and the myth of easy life in the West | Nervana | Mark Geoffrey Kirshner

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