CAIRO - Hundreds of Egyptians have been gathering around the Libyan Embassy in Cairo over the past week, waiting to receive or apply for visas as confusion grows regarding the status of migrant Egyptians in Libya.

“I’ve been sleeping out here for four days waiting for someone in the embassy to open a window and take my visa application,” said Refaat Ismail. After working as a construction worker for over 10 years in Tubrok, a port city in eastern Libya, Ismail must now face a whole new set of rules that complicate his re-entry into Libya where job opportunities are more abundant.

Since February 2, the Libyan Embassy has been swarmed by both those waiting to receive their passports and visas and the other waiting to apply. “I already (paid) for a work permit, finished my medical papers, and paid for transportation all the way up here. I can’t go back without handing in these papers,” said 49-year-old Bakheet Fayez, a flooring worker from Assiut.

Fayez says he has spent 10 days in front of the embassy waiting to turn in his papers, spending nights at relatives’ homes. “I can’t leave because these papers have expiration dates, and I can’t afford to go through the process of getting them again.”

Fayez spent seven years in Tripoli. He left when revolutionaries entered the city in August.

The International Organization for Migration estimates that around 200,000 Egyptian migrants fled Libya during the turmoil. The IOM estimates around 1.5 million Egyptians lived in Libya before their revolution. Many of these people supported families back home, bringing in around $33 million a year in remittances.

Back and forth

Although Libya is currently undergoing its own political turmoil, many of these migrant workers are craftsmen who believe Egypt’s western neighbor still holds more professional opportunities.

“There is still work in Libya for us; more than here,” said Sayed Ali, a construction worker who worked in Misrata for four years.

Many of these workers would go back and forth between Egypt and Libya depending on the availability of jobs, which according to the IOM is seasonal in many cases. They are no strangers to the journey or the administrative demands.

For these would-be migrants, though, applying for visas to enter Libya — in place since January, 1 2012 — is an entirely new prospect. Egypt and Libya are still technically bound to the Four Freedoms Agreement, which states that Egyptians and Libyans are free to move across the Libya-Egypt border without visas. However, this is not the first time the sides have infringed upon this agreement to limit the flow of Egyptian migrants to Libya. In 2004, the former minister of manpower signed the first agreement requiring work permits as a pre-requisite for crossing between the two countries.

But amid the current chaos, visas have been issued and work is slowly moving ahead.

“I don’t blame the embassy. They just went through a revolution, just like us, of course they will have administrative difficulties,” said Kamel Adham, a brick maker from Fayoum.

Mohsen Darwish had just received his visa after a five-day wait for his name to be called. The type of visa was unspecified. On it, “The Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Republic” was crossed out with a blue pen. Next to it was written: “The Free Libya.”

Read the article in its entirety at Al-Masry Al-Youm

Photo - DOD