When violent unrest erupted in Libya recently, Ahmed al-Agouz, 25, was doing casual work in the Libyan city of Sabha. Realizing he had to flee, he managed to reach the Tunisian border, where he eventually boarded a plane to Cairo. “Coming back to Egypt was a dream, given the horrific things I saw on the road,” he told IRIN. “I can only describe the experience as a sickening thriller.”
But returning to his home village in the Egyptian Nile Delta Governorate of Sharqia, north of Cairo, has made one thing abundantly clear to al-Agouz and tens of thousands of other returnees: There simply are no jobs back home.
According to Abdurrahman Kheir, an expert with the Egyptian Labour Union, the returnees will find it extremely difficult to get jobs. “This means they will descend into poverty and unemployment... The economy will fail to offer these people jobs, at least in the near future.”
Since the 18-day protest which forced President Hosni Mubarak out of office on 11 February, hundreds of thousands of workers, especially in the tourism and construction sectors, have yet to resume work.
The protests in Libya, which started on 14 February, and subsequent widespread violence and fighting, have led hundreds of thousands of migrant workers - including over 68,000 Egyptians, according to the UN Refugee Agency - to flee the country.
“I didn’t even manage to bring back all the clothes I had in the wardrobe with me,” he said. “I know it’s impossible to find a job here. My neighbours are all unemployed.”
A few days ago, 27-year-old carpenter Mohamed Abdel Khaliq committed suicide at his home in the Nile Delta Governorate of Monofiya, after thugs apparently robbed him of his belongings on his way back home.
Aliaa al-Mahdy, a leading economist at Cairo University, told IRIN the current Egyptian government needed to tackle the budget deficit and encourage job creation through small businesses. “The government can encourage these projects by just telling small investors they’ll have tax exemptions,” he said. “The government can offer many other incentives to lure investors back.”
Meanwhile, 28-year-old returnee Mohamed Ahmed Bassiouny, who worked as a house painter in Libya, hopes the government will do something. When he came back he discovered the construction sector had ground to a halt. Now he fears for the future of his wife and three children. “There are no new buildings, and few people are ready to spend the little money they have on getting their apartments painted,” Bassiouny said. “Where will I work then?”
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