Living and Working in the Midst of Conflict: The Status of Long-term Migrants in Libya

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Since 2011, Libya has been experiencing political turmoil that has reverberated across its society. Recognizing the broad impacts of these developments, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) commissioned a study on long-term migrants in Libya, focusing specifically on circumstances related to livelihoods, remittances and security.

While existing literature extensively focuses on the conditions, challenges and risks associated with transiting through Libya, this study aims to shed more light on the circumstances of migrants who have stayed in Libya for more than a year. Research conceptualizing migration in Libya through the perspective of transit migration frequently focuses on mobility as a central topic and explores issues arising from circumstances that put transitory migrants at risk, such as dangerous desert and sea crossings, incidences of human rights violations, risk of exploitation, and limited access to public services and justice. While recognizing that some of those challenges and vulnerabilities may be applicable to both long-term migrants and short-term transit migrants, this research intends to contribute to the migration discourse on Libya by distinguishing between these two groups and specifically examines the situation of long- term migrants in terms of livelihoods, remittances, security and migration intentions to provide a better understanding of their circumstances.


The research suggests that Libya hosts a sizeable population of long-term migrants whose circumstances vary from those of transit migrants. Long-term migrants appear to have adjusted to adverse circumstances in the country, continuing to work and send remittances despite limited access to services or justice.

From the perspective of long-term migrants, the labour market in Libya appears to have remained functional. The majority of respondents are working and reported facing no major challenges for finding employment in Libya. Among respondents who were unemployed, most attributed this status to a lack of skills than a lack of job opportunities, further indicating that the informal labour market may have remained sufficiently large to absorb migrant labour. Additionally, the vast majority of respondents indicated that they received compensation in cash, primarily Libyan dinars – evidence that the liquidity crisis is not preventing migrants from earning a livelihood.

There remains a significant proportion of migrants who send remittances to their countries of origin.
The majority of these individuals are the breadwinners of the recipient households, and, as such, their remittances contribute to basic expenses such as food, rent, utilities and health care. Respondents are almost entirely unbanked and reported relying mostly on informal remittance transfer methods. Survey results show a positive correlation between increased remittances and intention to stay in Libya.

Approximately one sixth of the respondents have experienced abuses while in Libya, with instances of verbal abuse, physical abuse and robbery most common. Half of the respondents reported feeling safe, and a large number of respondents assessed that the threat of various abuses had decreased since their arrival in Libya. There was regional variation in migrants’ perceived safety in Libya, with perceptions of safety being lowest in the south. Those who felt unsafe identified organized crime networks and petty criminals as their greatest threats, and those who had experienced abuses reported turning to friends, family members and community leaders instead of official channels. The most popular coping strategies were staying in at night and remaining in groups.

For now, most long-term migrants want to stay in Libya, motivated by work opportunities and high salaries. A smaller number reported intending to stay because they have adjusted to the circumstances. Compared to transit migrants, long-term migrants may be more likely to adjust to the adverse circumstances, as they have spent more time in Libya, potentially developing greater contextual knowledge and more effective coping strategies.


  1. Align programming, where necessary, with the distinct circumstances, motivations and needs of long-term migrants.

  2. Identify and address gaps in the primarily informal structures that can leave long-term migrants vulnerable to abuses and violations.

  3. Strengthen the protection environment by collaborating with private and public sector actors, as well as expanding access to community-level justice mechanisms.

  4. Advocate increased accountability of employers.


  1. Incorporate the research on long-term migrants in the regular activities of the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) programme.

  2. Conduct complementary research on female long-term migrants in Libya.

  3. Consider further research on the various informal remittance transfer processes.

  4. Investigate where abuses occur across the migrant journey

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