Migrant crisis: The Egyptian village that keeps sending its sons away

By Claire Read
BBC Arabic, Cairo

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media caption'After a few days, calls stopped'

As Europe grapples with the migrant crisis, bereaved relatives and a clutch of survivors are still searching for answers to one of Egypt's worst migrant boat disasters a year on.

Up to 500 people were lost and only 11 survived. Smugglers rammed the boat, which had set sail from Damietta in Egypt, near Malta and it sank, according to two survivors.

Most on board were from Syria and Gaza but 80 of them were Egyptians, including many children. Twelve of the under-18s were from the same village just outside Cairo.

Mohamed Essam was one of those children, and his father, Essam Ahmed, is still looking for justice.

The families of those missing are launching a new case with Egypt's prosecutor general to demand criminal responsibility be taken for the loss of their loved ones.

This will be the third case. Some of the relatives believe their children are still alive, being held by Egyptian or Italian authorities.

They will not give up hope, they say, until they see evidence of what happened.

Mohamed's village, Aghour al-Sughra, has a long history of sending its sons to Europe to earn money.

Around 3,000 from Aghour al-Sughra have made their way to Turin, in northern Italy.

The villagers live hand-to-mouth, making a small amount from their farms and small shops.

Young people say they do not see a future and nothing is getting better with each new government in power in Egypt.

And everyone in the village knows Italian law means under-18s cannot be returned once they arrive.

Until last year's disaster, numbers of those wishing to travel had risen to 100 a year from the village.

The broker, or mandoob, as he is called locally, is well-known throughout the area. He would organise groups and send them to the smugglers on the coast, taking a cut of the total sum for the trip.

But for the past year he has been running the village's efforts to find out where the 12 missing children are, in co-ordination with the other families across Egypt who lost relatives.

Aghour al-Sughra is one of several villages around the country known for the high numbers emigrating.

Salama Abdel Karim has returned from Turin after 23 years and is building a villa on the outskirts of Aghour al-Sughra for his family.

"All the kids from here who've travelled have helped with lots of businesses in the village," he says. "Everything you see in this village, we've helped with."

And it is that dream that continues to lure Egypt's youth to travel. Even those who have lost relatives are drawn to the idea.

One young man who has not heard from his cousin since last September's sinking has decided to attempt the trip himself.

"Everyone thinks of their future and that's just what I'm doing," he says. "I want to build a future for my family."