Social Cohesion, Illegal Immigration and the Child Protection System
The Union of Egyptians in Europe held a conference in Turin, Italy to discuss the most pressing problems faced by the Egyptian expatriate in Italy, a community with a history that goes back to Roman times.
The President of the Union Dr Essam Abdel Sammad, chaired the conference and was joined on the panel by Dr. Younis Tawfiq, founder of Dar Al-Hikma; Magdi Faltas, President of The Federation of the Egyptian Community in Italy and the Milan-based Coptic Association, and Tarek Kamel, President of the Federation of Egyptian Communities in Turin. Also in attendance was the Vice President of the Union of Egyptians in Europe, Gamal Abdel Maaboud and Mahmoud Awadallah, the Mayor of Egyptians in Italy.
Dr Essam began by outlining the objectives of the Union; to unite people, to build a bridge with the home land, and to promote integration and social cohesion. He also highlighted some of the Union’s most significant achievements - enabling Egyptians living abroad to exercise their right to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections, the issuing of Egyptian National ID cards abroad, and making it possible for Egyptians living outside of Egypt to be eligible for the positions of Minister, Mayor and Member of Parliament.
Key themes that ran through the discussions were the urgent need for unity amongst Egyptians and a greater understanding and respect for Italian laws, and the critical role Egyptians abroad play as ambassadors of Egypt in breaking down misconceptions and building an accurate and more positive perception of Egyptians in the Italy, Europe and beyond.
The grave subject of the illegal immigration of unaccompanied children their susceptibility to exploitation by the Italian mafia and drug traffickers was discussed. It was raised that a collaborative approach in which the Italian government takes a central role was key in tackling the growing problem of the exploitation of Egyptian children.
The topic which took center stage was the prevalence of children being taken away from their parents by social services of which there are approximately 50 cases. Zainab shared her story which started in September 2015 when her 4-year-old son Ziad went missing from outside of her home. Zainab called the police and filed a report. When she found her son, he was with another child whom she did not know, he said that he had taken Ziad to play together and apologized. The police suspected that Ziad could have been hurt and took him to a hospital for a medical examination. When Zainab went to the hospital to collect her son she was told that he would be taken away for a month for alleged neglect. She was warned that if she were to object her son would be taken away permanently. A court date was scheduled for December.
During the court hearing Zainab was informed that she would not be reunited with her son until March, and when March came around the date was pushed further to June. Social services accused Zainab and her husband of abduction and her eldest son of raping his younger brother, Ziad. However, Zainab showed us documents which prove that no such thing was recorded during her son’s medical examination and that her son was being taken away under a false pretext. She told the panel and the audience that she has been barred from seeing her son for over a year and that she's been working with 6 lawyers to no avail. Another court hearing was scheduled for Ziad to testify against his older brother. Zainab is at risk of losing all four of her children.
The audience and panel called for a strong and united response with the involvement of the Egyptian consulate in Italy to support Zainab through her case.
A more general discussion took place on how to better protect children from social service intervention. It was proposed that educational parenting seminars should be set up for families who need support to develop these skills and for them to receive guidance on Italian law. They also proposed that there should be weekly drop in sessions for Egyptians in the community who need to seek legal advice from a lawyer who understands the specific issues within the community.