CHANGE IN CONTEXT
The signing of the cease-fire agreement in October 2020 and the subsequent formation of the Government of National Unity in March 2021 laid the foundation for increased stability across Libya. With the cessation of large-scale hostilities, the overall humanitarian situation showed signs of improvement, highlighted by the continuing trend in the number of displaced people returning to their areas of origin.
The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) decreased to an estimated 224,0002 persons, in comparison to some 278,000 individuals at the start of 2021. Although this is an encouraging trend, challenges remain in ensuring that returnee and vulnerable populations have proper access to essential services, such as healthcare, safe drinking water and suitable housing. Primary infrastructure requires urgent rehabilitation by national authorities with support from international partners.
Despite this positive trend in the number of returnees, planned and often forcible evictions targeting IDPs, whose displacement continues, is of critical concern. Forced evictions mainly affect individuals and families living in collective and informal sites, leading to a heightened risk of secondary displacement and insecurity over housing, land, and property rights. At the same time, displaced families are further affected by the rise in food prices due to the devaluation of the exchange rate. Between April and May, a 5.4 per cent increase was noted in the price of the food components of the Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB). Although food prices are stabilizing, they remain 12.3 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels, which, combined with the loss of income and lack of work opportunities for IDPs and returnees, have increased negative coping mechanisms, as vulnerable families are forced to forego basic needs.
Although structural hardships persist, there is an underlying will among the Libyan population to return to their homes to rebuild and restart their lives. However, with the impeding threat of eviction from settlements, vulnerable displaced people are left with no choice but to return to their place of origin without proper support. Based on an assessment of sites of returns conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), some of the most significant barriers faced by returnees include concerns over the presence of unexploded ordnance. Good progress has been made during the first quarter of 2021 on mine clearance activities due to improved access, and although many areas have been surveyed and the removal of surface items is ongoing, large amounts of Explosive Hazards, including improvised explosive devices (IED) will continue to pose a serious risk to returnees. Damaged homes and infrastructure are also a major impediment, especially the protracted situation of IDPs from Tawergha, which suffered considerable damage a decade ago, with more than half the homes either destroyed or heavily damaged.
At the start of the year, Libya, as elsewhere in the world, struggled with the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Humanitarian partners from the health sector worked closely with national counterparts to support efforts responding to COVID-19 with technical guidance and establishing a comprehensive preparedness and response plan that included coordination of the sector’s emergency and humanitarian response. However, the already fragile health system struggled to cope with the additional challenges, with the national budget yet to be approved, the lack of funding hampered programming and impacted health facilities’ ability to remain fully operational. Additional efforts on infection prevention and control were hindered by the deterioration of water systems, causing disruption in the water supply. An increase in attacks on water and sanitation infrastructures led to the stoppage of regular water supply in some areas, while the deterioration of desalination plants, coupled with electricity cuts, affects approximately 1.6million people trying to access safe water supply. Some 1.3 million school-aged children were affected by school closures in 2020 due to the pandemic; however, in January, schools reopened across the country, with public and private schools operating on a reduced schedule as a preventive measure against COVID-19. In addition, non-formal educational centers for migrants, IDPs, and refugees also resumed in-person activities.
The first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived in April 2021 but saw limited distribution due to the slow rollout of the vaccination campaign. At the end of April, 575,200 doses of the vaccine, of which 175,200 were procured through the COVAX facility, were available in Libya. By end May, over 240,000 doses of the vaccine were administered. Registration of migrants and refugees for vaccination was due to start in June, with some 62,000 individuals already identified as priority.
According to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) Round 36, there are nearly 591,000 migrants in Libya, ten per cent of whom are women and another ten per cent children, from 43 different nationalities. The trend of increasing number of migrants and refugees attempting to make the dangerous journey to cross the Mediterranean has continued. More than 10,000 migrants and refugees were intercepted and returned to Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard by the end of May, nearly surpassing the total number reported in all of 2020. Additionally, at least 173 migrants and refugees died, and 459 are considered missing on the Central Mediterranean route. At the same time, the number of migrants and refugees held in detention centers run by DCIM has been increasing significantly since the beginning of the year. This increase is worrisome, especially as access by humanitarian partners to the centers remains limited, raising fears of human rights violations and deterring the delivery of much-needed emergency relief aid. As of May, there were 5,100 migrants and refugees held in dire conditions in detention centers, without access to due process, compared to some 1,000 individuals in January. Equally worrisome is the detention of children held in these facilities, where the gender breakdown of the population is 12 per cent women and girls, and 88 per cent men and boys, thus increasing serious protection concerns and exposure to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) incidents. Children are disproportionately affected, exposing them to risks associated with family separation, child labor, and a disruption in school attendance, requiring targeted support for their well-being, mental health and psychosocial support.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.