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Severe poverty pushes Egyptian migrants to death in Libya

In a bare room with nothing but a small pillow, a few pots and a sheet to cover the dusty floor, Youssef Abdullah’s family living in an impoverished Egyptian village, were told he had died in the Libyan desert.

Abdullah was one of at least 22 Egyptians found dead earlier this month, perishing from heat and starvation after trekking the Libyan desert by foot in search of jobs in the war-torn country, that they could not secure at home.

The Libyan Red Crescent said the bodies were found in the Jaghbub desert, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) south of Tobruk.

Many of them came from villages in Minya, an impoverished province south of Cairo where residents say poverty and unemployment have been driving villagers to put their lives at risk to find work of any kind, even if it meant contending with conditions of war.

Egypt last year began sweeping economic reforms as part of a three-year $12 billion International Monetary Fund loan programme, floating its pound currency and slashing subsidies in a bid to lure back foreign investment that fled after its 2011 political uprising.

But the measures have pushed inflation above 30 percent and slashed purchasing power.

Among the survivors is Said Abdullah, who dug his 17-year-old son a grave by hand in the desert after he died.

To get to Libya Abdullah and others from his neighbourhood paid a broker from a nearby village, who took money in exchange for providing what he said was legal passage. He then passed them on to smugglers who left them in the Libyan desert without water or food.

Egyptian Migration Minister Nabila Makram said the deaths were “tragic, unfortunate and painful and speak to the danger of illegal immigration,” in a statement last week.