SITUATION AT A GLANCE
The spread of COVID-19 has exacerbated humanitarian needs in Libya, complicating ongoing IDP returns to areas of origin.
Needs are particularly high among migrants in Libya, who continue to experience severe protection violations.
With more than $27 million in FY 2021 funding, USAID/BHA and State/PRM partners are working to provide health, protection, shelter, and other humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations in Libya.
Heightened Humanitarian Needs Pose Challenges for Returning IDPs
While a reduction in conflict beginning in mid-2020 resulted in relatively improved security conditions, the socioeconomic impacts of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, compounded by a continuing economic crisis and lack of basic services, have strained living conditions in Libya, according to the UN. To meet the increased challenges faced by the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic, the UN aims to reach 451,000 of the estimated 1.3 million people in need during 2021, as outlined in the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya.
The UN also reports an increasing number of previously displaced families returning to their areas of origin in recent months, primarily due to relatively stable security conditions. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 18,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) returned to places of origin between December 2020 and May 2021. However, a widespread lack of livelihood opportunities, unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination, and lack of access to basic services—including education, electricity, health care services, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure—have posed challenges for returning households, according to the UN. Damage to property and housing in areas of return, along with continued insecurity and violence, also represent barriers to IDP returns, the UN reports.
While some IDPs are voluntarily returning to areas of origin, others have been forced to return due to evictions by Government of Libya (GoL) authorities, the UN reports. In a recent incident, the GoL Ministry of Interior ordered the rapid departure of more than 530 displaced households from the town of Tawergha—located near the northeast coastal city of Misrata—who had been residing at Tripoli District’s Janzour Naval Academy displacement site. Only 6,900 of the approximately 40,000 people displaced from Tawergha at the height of hostilities in 2011 had returned to the town as of May 2021, according to IOM. In addition to the widespread, severe damage to public and private infrastructure in the town, IDPs have cited a lack of basic services and livelihood opportunities, social tensions, and UXO contamination as barriers to return. Increasing eviction threats against Tawerghans in current areas of displacement are pushing more IDPs to return, raising concern among relief actors regarding the lack of adequate planning and support for reintegration. Humanitarian organizations warn that rushed returns could exacerbate protection risks, including a risk of arbitrary detention, gender-based violence (GBV), and trafficking.
Relief Actors Report Increased Migration Despite Protection Concerns
Libya remains both a destination and a transit point for migrants in the region, hosting nearly 576,000 migrants, including approximately 42,800 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as of mid-June. Discrimination and inadequate legal protection continue to prevent migrants and refugees from accessing basic services, with the UN recording unmet humanitarian needs among nearly 60 percent of all migrants and all refugees as of January 2021. Moreover, migrants and refugees who are intercepted and rescued at sea and returned to Libya are detained, where they are at risk of facing torture, GBV, neglect, and protracted detention without access to due process of law. Illegal migrants elsewhere also face a risk of abduction for ransom, trafficking, and unlawful killings.
Despite severe risks, migrant attempts at crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Europe are increasing, leading to an increasing number of migrants being intercepted and returned to Libya. As of May 29, nearly 8,600 migrants and refugees had been intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and disembarked in Libya in 2021, representing a 220 percent increase compared to the same period in 2020, UNHCR reports. International non-governmental organizations (INGOs), IOM, and UNHCR are present at disembarkation points to provide medical assistance and relief items before arrivals are transferred to detention centers by GoL authorities. Relief organizations have also performed nearly 40 monitoring visits to detention centers in 2021, according to UNHCR.
Bureaucratic Restrictions Limit Humanitarian Access
During the month of April, humanitarian agencies reported through the Access Monitoring and Reporting Framework more than 190 incidents in which humanitarian access was constrained in Libya, according to the UN. Bureaucratic restrictions on the movement of humanitarian staff and relief items into and within Libya represented nearly 60 percent of all recorded access incidents. Humanitarian staff report an absence of clear processes for the registration of INGOs and visas for INGO staff. Challenges with customs clearances have also resulted in the delayed importation of humanitarian supplies, the UN reports. Health assistance has been most affected, representing 41 percent of all reported access incidents.
UN Agencies Identify Food and Livelihood Needs in Libya
Approximately 700,000 people in Libya are in need of food and livelihood assistance, including 123,000 migrants and 76,000 IDPs, according to the Food Security Sector. COVID-19 continues to exacerbate difficult living conditions for vulnerable populations, due to increased prices of essential commodities, including food, and limited or loss of income due to the lack of employment opportunities, according to IOM. In January, the GoL introduced a new unified exchange rate, resulting in a 60 percent increase in the cost of imported staple food commodities such as vegetable oil and milk. The cost and affordability of food and other basic supplies remain the primary concern for migrants in Libya, according to IOM. Relief actors, including USAID/BHA partners IOM and the UN World Food Program (WFP) and State/PRM partner UNHCR, have scaled up ready-to-eat food assistance for vulnerable migrants living in urban areas, IDPs, returnees, and host communities who have lost their livelihoods due to COVID-19.