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intrOductiOn tO migrAtiOn issues in liByA



Since Libya’s independence in 1951, its history is mainly dominated by the dictatorial regime of Colonel Gaddafi and its varying relationships with neighbouring countries and the international community, including some periods of isolation and embargo. The dictatorial regime, which started in 1969, collapsed with the rebellion in spring 2011 and the following civil war. Then the country entered a post-crisis period with conflicting pushes still struggling towards the creation of a pluralist and democratic State. The transitory governments resulting from the general elections held in June 2012 did not succeed in creating the conditions for political stabilization, functioning of national institutions and initiating economic recovery.

In the situation before the last crisis, just after the new general elections in June 2014, the parliamentary systems witnessed strong political conflicts between the main parties and the Government still deals with innumerable armed groups or brigades (kata’ib).4 These brigades – which include, among others, entities originally set during the civil war for supporting Gaddafi and entities representing local tribes – control the security in many parts of the country’s territory, in some cases cooperating with the State security forces.

In general, the southern part of Libya has become somewhat of a closed military region, with at times a lack of border control or closing of border points. The western and eastern border regions in the north of the country also lack some control and security. Moreover, in the eastern region of Cyrenaica, two rival political groups with military arms call for an autonomous federalist form of government. This situation results in trafficking of armaments, drugs and human beings; shootings and attacks towards sensitive sites; murders and kidnappings of people, also including diplomats and foreign workers; displacements and abductions of people like irregular migrants; and even their detention in facilities set by the Government and brigades over the country. As of April 2014, about 20 out of about 100 detention centres or camps5 presumably set within the country were reported by representatives of the Ministry of Interior and IOM Libya as fully under the control of government authorities.

3 This section is based on the following sources: UN DESA, 2013c; DRC, 2013; MPC, 2013a; BBC, 2014; HRW, 2014b; ICG, 2013; and Frontex, 2014a.

4 According to the Small Arms Survey Project, in Libya, kata’ib (singular, katiba) was the designation for the military units in the Gaddafi army headed by a colonel. During the fighting, the anti-Gaddafi forces appropriated the term to describe any group of insurgents, irrespective of group size. In English-language reporting of the war, it is most commonly translated as “brigade(s)” (SAS, 2012).

5 The number of detention centres in Libya is a controversial issue; moreover, different types of detention centres and prisons are often considered together. The detention centres for migrants should be in the order of 25. The Global Detention Project provides some distinction and details using reports from Human Right Watch and Fortress Europe (based on information obtained from interviews with former detainees), UNHCR, an EU mission to Libya and other sources, however limitedly to the situation of 2009 (Global Detention Project, 2009).



The economy heavily based on the natural resources of oil and gas makes Libya a rich country. However, this wealth is not distributed equally throughout the population and living conditions vary widely for the estimated 6.3 million people believed to be living in the country’s extremely wide and largely desert territory. The population, which is young, with a median age of 27–28 years, cannot take all the work positions available in the predominant industries as well as many other sectors, including the less attractive ones. The informal work sector is particularly developed, taking benefit of the wide number, profiles and adaptability of the many irregular migrants present in the country.


International migration in Libya is important in the country’s history and has assumed an incredible relevance in recent years. The evolution in the last decades has been determined mainly by the course of national economy and labour shortages, the policies adopted under Gaddafi’s regime, the conflicts and economic conditions in the (neighbouring) countries of origin, and the EU cooperation aiming at combating irregular migration to Europe.

Distinguishing between the two major categories of regular migration and irregular migration,6 Libya is today an important country of destination for regular labour migrants and irregular migrants arriving mainly for the great employment opportunities and the crossroad of other important irregular flows and movements of refugees looking for protection often in transit from Africa and the Middle East to Europe. The changing status of many migrants suggests referring within this study to mixed migration more than irregular migration, intending to cover also the flows formally under asylum.

Starting after independence, regular foreign inflows into the country were favoured by the important need for migrants to work on the exploitation of natural resources and other industries like construction. Waves of immigrants were drawn to Libya by the introduction of the pan-Arab and pan-African policies (adopted respectively in 1969 and 1990), the resulting bilateral agreements and immigration procedures, and as a way to escape persecution and famines in sub-Saharan African countries. Therefore, during the time immigrants from Chad, Egypt, Niger and Tunisia were joined by those coming from Algeria, Eritrea, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, other sub-Saharan African countries, and several southern Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines.

6 In accordance with the study Assessment of Priorities for the Development of Libya’s Migration Policy: A Strategic Vision (IOM, 2015), the term “irregular migration” is used here to denote that migrants do not possess the permissions for entering and staying in a given country or exiting from there, while the term

“regular migration” is used to denote that migrants have been granted permissions. By the way, as pointed out in the aforementioned IOM document, in Libya regular migrants are considered those who have been able to integrate in society, regardless of their legal status. Furthermore, the term “mixed migration” is also used to denote irregular migration, in particular in the case of non-Libyans.



Many of mixed migrants, in particular those from sub-Saharan Africa, were facing very hard journeys when travelling towards and through Libya and staying in the country. Given their irregular status in Libya and the racist attitudes of some local people, they might be easily victims of arrest at border crossings, checkpoints or any other place in Libya by the national authorities, as well as trafficking, extortion, and violence by smugglers and other people entering in contact with them (FIDH, 2012).

The inflows into Libya in general did not change too much with the measures introduced in the last 10 years of Gaddafi’s regime aiming to fight mixed migration through the expulsion and detention of people, in particular those from sub-Saharan African countries. This was due to a series of reasons, including the continuous deterioration of the political and employment situations in the involved countries of origin and the repetition of migration process by migrants previously deported from Libya (MPC, 2013a).

However, the paths and trends of labour immigration had an important downturn with the uprising in 2011, with the massive outflows of foreigners mainly belonging to this kind of migration. In fact, according to IOM, approximately 800,000 of the 2.5 million migrants present prior to the conflict left Libya in the period from February to November 2011. This mass exodus disrupted critical services and national capacities in important sectors in Libya and remittance systems of the countries of origin, creating a particular pressure on Egypt and Tunisia that were already struggling with social and economic challenges of their own transition periods (IOM, 2012a).

Since 2012, more foreign migrants have left Libya on a voluntary or forced basis, but many of those who suddenly left during the civil war returned and many others arrived for the first time. Within the unstable political and security situation, migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and some other origin countries face harassment, rights violations, forced labour, other kinds of contrast and exploitation as well as arrests by brigades and government forces more than in the past. Smuggling still constitutes a necessity for irregular/mixed migrants in their long journeys in wide desert areas and so an important feature of migration in the country. Nevertheless, Libya still represents an important destination for migrants looking for better economic conditions or seeking to escape their countries of origin for various reasons.

More in-depth descriptions on the recent migratory trends, the profiles of the main categories of migrants and the impact of migration in Libya are provided by several works recently issued at the international level, in particular the following:

• Assessment of Priorities for the Development of Libya’s Migration Policy: A Strategic Vision (IOM, 2015);

• Humanitarian Response to the Libyan Crisis: February–December 2011 Report (IOM, 2012a);



• Migrants Caught in Crisis: The IOM Experience in Libya (IOM, 2012b);

• Two Years after the Crisis: Returnees from Libya Revisited (IOM, 2013a);

• MPC - Migration Profile – Libya (MPC, 2013a);

• Mixed Migration: Libya at the Crossroads. Mapping of Migration Routes from Africa to Europe and Drivers of Migration in Post-revolution Libya (Altai Consulting, 2013a); and

• “We Risk Our Lives for Our Daily Bread”: Findings of the Danish Refugee Council Study of Mixed Migration in Libya (DRC, 2013).

However, for the purposes of this report, a summary of the main features of migration in Libya for the broad population categories of Libyans and non-Libyans is provided through Schema 1. This summary is based on the main references listed above and should be still valid overall, despite some impact of the 2014 crisis.

Schema 1: Summary of main categories of migrants in Libya Category of in need of health care, and other categories of persons returning to Libya to settle there after a short or long period of stay abroad.

− People who escaped in 2011 or later and subsequently returned.



Category of that consist entirely of one category of migrants.

9 Irregular migrants looking for work and more favourable living conditions and incomes, mainly entering Libya on temporary, seasonal or circular basis or with the ultimate destinations in Europe.

They often come from the southern neighbouring countries, the sub-Saharan African countries and the most represented countries of regular migration (e.g. Egypt and Tunisia). Many of them enter the country without visas and do not regularize their long-term residence intending to settle in Libya or transiting through the country.

They are mainly coming from the Horn of African countries, West African countries and more recently the Syrian Arab Republic, through transit countries and informal land routes, crossing the desert or the sea. Most of them would tend to go



Category of from the same main countries of origin (i.e. the Syrian Arab Republic and countries in the Horn of Africa and West Africa).

− Precarious and uncertain solutions in different kinds of accommodation as well as arbitrary and indefinite detention in overcrowded centres mainly feature the stay in Libya of most of these migrants, in particular those from other African countries. characterized by the unpredictability of central decisions, and conflicting policies were quickly introduced or amended. The policy framework regulating migration at present is weak. In particular, there are limited instruments for facilitating the regular immigration of foreigners and for regularizing the status of irregular immigrants and people looking for refuge in the country. Moreover, there is no framework on asylum issues yet. However, consultations for a comprehensive migration policy are undertaken by the relevant national agencies within the so-called Legislation and Policy Task Force established under the START Project, and a proposal should be submitted to the Government.

Libya adhered to a series of international conventions on matters such as the protection and anti-discrimination of several population categories including migrant workers and their family members, stateless persons, children and women, or combatting transnational organized crime as well as regional conventions on refugees, but it did not sign the 1951 Refugee Convention (UNHCR, 2014b; MPC, 2013a; DRC, 2013). The right of asylum is endorsed by the current, interim constitutional provisions of August 2011; however, there is no national asylum system to determine the eligibility for refugee status or to take charge of refugee protection and there is only a draft refugee law established in 2013.



This makes it easy to violate the principle of non-refoulement. Therefore, in this area, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) operates in Libya without a formal agreement; because of this, refugee status determination (RSD) of migrants is not conducted systematically. Moreover, the documents provided by UNHCR to these refugees are not systematically recognized.

Apart from national legislation and international agreements and conventions, Libya holds a series of bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries, the EU Member States, and other countries worldwide on matters like free movement of people between countries, labour exchange and social security.

The migration legislative framework of Libya and full detail of agreements is given by other reports recently prepared, namely, Assessment of Priorities for the Development of Libya’s Migration Policy: A Strategic Vision (IOM, 2015) and National Assessment Report on Labour Market Management in Libya (IOM, 2014e). Some administrative procedures are described in the following section, for the purposes of introducing the (possible) registration of data. Therefore, this section aims to introduce the national institutions and services currently involved in the collection of migration data or with the capacity to do so in the future. Information is mainly based on various documents (IOM, 2014e, 2014f, 2015; MPC, 2013a; Altai, 2013a; DRC, 2013) and reports from several Libyan officials and IOM Libya representatives who could be consulted.

The main national institutions responsible for migration management or intervening in migration-related issues in Libya are the following:

• Ministry of Interior (MoI), with the following agencies and departments:

− Coast Guard, responsible for search and rescue of migrants at sea;

− Police, with responsibilities including detection and apprehension of irregular migrants, at borders and within the country;

− Department for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), in charge of coordinating interventions to prevent and combat irregular migration and oversee the detention of irregular migrants;

− Department of Passport Investigations (DPI);

− Department of Passports and Citizenship (DPC);

− Department of Immigration;

− Department of Information Security;

− Department of International Relations.



• Ministry of Defence, with:

− Border Guard, responsible for patrolling the border areas outside the border crossing points;

− Other services responsible for running some processing and detention centres jointly with the DCIM.

• Ministry of Finance, with the Customs Administration, with overall responsibility for controlling movements outside the border crossing points – that is, patrolling of the border line and inland and inspection of vehicles entering the country;

• The inter-institutional Border Management Working Group (BMWG), which is the central body set in 2013 coordinating the inputs of all national agencies involved in the border management and developing the procedures implemented at border points, in cooperation with the EUBAM;

• Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for legislation issues and administrative decisions on detention and expulsion/deportation of migrants and their appeal to courts;

• Ministry of Labour and Capacity Building (MoLCB), with mainly the following agencies:

− Directorate for Employment and Foreign Recruitment, with the Foreign Recruitment Unit (FRU) in particular providing services;

− Directorate for Work Inspection and Occupational Safety (DWIOS), with the Inspection Unit (IU) in particular providing services;

− Centre for Documentation and Information;

− Labour Offices.

• Ministry of Planning, with the Bureau of Statistics and Census (BSC) providing services;

• Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), with the help of the following agencies:

− Department of Visas;

− Department of Consular Affairs;

− Directorate of Expatriates;

− Directorate of Protocol.



• Ministry of Health, which is responsible for examinations of foreign workers for infectious diseases and other procedures that may have relevance to the registration of at least some categories of migrants.

In addition to these ministerial agencies, as of spring 2014 most of the brigades ensuring security across the territory of Libya were controlling irregular migrants, eventually bringing them to concerned government agencies or directly running detention centres without formal agreements.

Furthermore, a group of national committees and organizations – such as the National Council for General Liberties and Human Rights, the Libyan Authority for Relief and Humanitarian Aid, and the Libyan Red Crescent – often set after the 2011 crisis, intervenes on migration matters and operations (UNHCR, 2014b;

IOM, 2014d; MPC/CARIM, 2013a).

The main national institutions involved in the field of migration data management are further considered in the next chapter, although not extensively covered, given the impossibility of gathering information due the crisis in July 2014.


Libya is member of the United Nations and most other international and regional organizations, including the African Union, the Community of Sahel Saharan States (CEN-SAD), the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the League of Arab States (LAS) and the Organization for the Islamic Conference (OIC).

In the last decade and in particular after the crisis in 2011, the United Nations, the EU, regional organizations and individual countries played a significant role in Libya in areas such as reconciliation, elections and State reform, security, development, migration, human rights, civil society and media. Among the main initiatives relevant to migration, since 2011, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is mandated to support the Libyan Government in the democratic transition, promotion of the rule of law and human rights, ensuring security (including mine action and demobilization), general development and coordination of international assistance. The EUBAM, which has been operating since May 2013, specifically supports Libya in developing border management and security at the country’s land, sea and air borders. This is mainly done through the provision of training on international standards and best practices and advice on cooperation with neighbouring countries as well as, in the long term, the development of a national Integrated Border Management (IBM) Strategy. In cooperation with the BMWG, the EUBAM leads and coordinates the International Coordination Meeting on Border Management, the body that brings together all organizations and countries intending to support this sector (UNSMIL, 2014; EUBAM, 2014a, 2014b; EEAS, 2014).



As of spring 2014, all relevant international actors such as international and organizations and bilateral cooperation agencies were actively operating within Libya, although according to the accessibility of remote locations and depending on the security conditions.

Among UN agencies, UNHCR has been operating in Libya since 1991. Given the level of adhesion of Libya to international conventions concerning refugees and the country’s lack of a national system on asylum (cfr. Section A3), UNHCR first undertakes the activities of registration, documentation and RSD of migrants. In

Among UN agencies, UNHCR has been operating in Libya since 1991. Given the level of adhesion of Libya to international conventions concerning refugees and the country’s lack of a national system on asylum (cfr. Section A3), UNHCR first undertakes the activities of registration, documentation and RSD of migrants. In

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