CAIRO: Egyptian fishermen still being held in Libya due to the ongoing militia conflict “have legal work contracts and not illegal immigrants,” said the Head of Fishermen Syndicate in Kafr el-Sheikh Ahmed Nassar to The Cairo Post Monday.
There were total of 1,200 Egyptian fishermen “stuck in Libya’s security unrest;” some of whom managed to return, while about 565 are still in Libya’s Misrata and Benghazi struggling to leave the country, according to Nassar.
He claimed that the fishermen have all necessary papers to legally work between Egypt and Libya.
On Jan. 3, 49 fishermen in three boats were arrested and accused by Libyan authorities of fishing in Libyan territorial waters; Youm7 quoted Nassar as saying that the boats were forced to enter Libyan territory following the arrest; the men have reiterated that they were in international waters.
Attempts to reach an official at the Ministry of Manpower to verify the number of the remaining fishermen held in Libya failed.
Nasser went on explaining the difficult circumstances facing these fishermen to come back as, saying “for the fishermen to return Egypt via sea, it is banned.”
Some 37 fishermen reportedly arrived Monday in Beheira after taking their boats from Libya; they told border patrol that they failed to leave the country legally due to the security vacuum. Another 100 fishermen returned from Libya Sunday to their village in Kafr el-Sheikh.
Flights between Egypt and Libya were halted last year amid the escalated conflict between the two Islamist Libyan militias, which has subsequently led to the closure of international diplomatic missions. Evacuations of Egyptian nationals stuck there were aided by international cooperation through Tunisia and Algeria, which both allowed Egyptians to enter.
Efforts by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs intensified after a number of Coptic Egyptian nationals were kidnapped by Islamist militants; three were reportedly killed and the whereabouts of 13 remaining unknown.
Coptic Bishop Paul, who has followed the abduction case, has called on Egyptians not to travel from or to Libya.
A decision to ban Egyptians from traveling to Libya is being discussed along with other alternatives in a crisis center at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, assigned to follow up on the cases of the kidnapped and the fishermen, according to previous statements by Badr Abdel Atty, the Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The ministry has frequently stressed it is contacting with the Libyan side and following up on unsolved cases despite the “absence of Egyptian representation” in Libya.