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Labour Market Access for Migrants in Libya and the Impact of COVID-19 (August 2021)

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Summary

Despite the protracted conflict and the country's strict immigration policies, Libya continues to attract a large number of migrants. Whether considering Libya as a transit point to Europe or an employment destination in itself, employment represents an important, often vital aspect for migrants in Libya. Previous research highlighted the reliance of the Libyan economy on foreign manpower, with migrant workers balancing out the labour deficiencies in key economic sectors.

Migrants in Libya frequently engage in low-skilled and unstable forms of economic activities and benefit from little to no protection, and irregularity is a common feature of Libya's migrant population. As a result, and due to the absence of a legal framework safeguarding migrants’ rights, migrants often find themselves prone to an array of protection concerns, both outside and inside the workplace.

Previous assessments highlighted the important role of informal labour intermediation in migrants’ access to the labour market in Libya. However, unregulated labour intermediation can lead to human rights violations by intermediaries, such as human trafficking and compulsory labour. Moreover, the already precarious living conditions of migrants in Libya further deteriorated following the onset of COVID-19 in the country and the imposition of precautionary measures against the spread of the virus. These measures represented an enormous economic risk for migrants in the country and hampered their ability to access livelihoods and employment opportunities. In fact, many migrant labourers lost their only source of income due to factors such as job loss or the closure of the business where they work, as found in a recent REACH study on the impact of COVID19 on vulnerable communities.

Previous research investigated labour migration dynamics in Libya. However, there is little granular and comprehensive information on how migrants access the labour market, the role intermediaries play in enabling them to access the labour market, and how the COVID19 health crisis impacted migrants' ability to access employment opportunities and to sustain themselves.

To fill this information gap, this assessment, commissioned by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and conducted by REACH, aims to advance understanding of (1) migrants’ access to employment and the role of labour intermediaries, (2) employment characteristics and conditions of migrant workers, and (3) the impact of COVID-19 on migrant’s ability to access the labour market in Libya and to sustain their livelihoods. Data collection took place in April and May 2021 in Tripoli, Misrata, and Sebha – three locations representing important economic hubs and hosting sizable and diverse migrant communities. This study is primarily based on 138 individual interviews (IIs) with migrants workers, 45 IIs with employers, 15 key informant interviews (KIIs) with labour market intermediaries, and 8 KIIs with national and local stakeholders.