Migrants in Countries in Crisis (MICIC) Libya Case Study: An Unending Crisis – Responses of Migrants, States and Organisations to the 2011 Libya Crisis

from International Centre for Migration Policy Development
Published on 29 Sep 2017

Executive Summary

This case study was conducted for the EU-funded project ‘Migrants in Countries in Crisis: Supporting an Evidence-Based Approach for Effective and Cooperative State Action’. Six case studies were done under this project, to investigate the impacts of crises on migrants, particularly in the longer term.
The focus of the current case study is the political unrest in Libya that began with protests against Muammar Gaddafi in February 2011. With the fall of Gaddafi in August 2011, much of the international community considered the immediate humanitarian emergency to have ended, but political instability and conflict continued, reaching a state of civil war in 2014. The country remains unstable today. This case study centres on the migrants who were displaced by the 2011 crisis from five countries of origin (Burkina Faso, Chad, Egypt, Ghana and Niger) and one country of transit (Tunisia).

When violence erupted in 2011, migrants fled Libya in myriad ways, on foot or by bus, taxi, plane or ship. Some organised their own travel, while others were evacuated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Some used smugglers’ services. Countries of origin provided little support for the evacuation. Migrants helped each other, often receiving assistance from family for their return and reintegration. Most migrants lost everything in Libya. Upon their return they became dependent on relatives for financial support. Returning home empty-handed had far-reaching consequences, such as reduced educational opportunities for children and psychological and emotional stress, for the returnees and for their household. Domestic violence and depression were occasionally the result.

During the crisis there were outbursts of violence towards foreign nationals. Foreigners were accused of being mercenaries. Blacks, in particular, became targets of xenophobic and racial attacks. Migrants were harassed, intimidated and physically attacked by both Libyan citizens and militias, and thieves robbed them of their savings and possessions. State actors played various roles in the response to migrants’ situation during and after the crisis. The government of Libya and the governments of the countries of origin of the many sub-Saharan African migrants living in Libya played a minimal role in the migrants’ evacuation and repatriation, with the exception of the Ghanaian government.

Intergovernmental organisations, notably IOM, were pivotal in managing migrants’ evacuation to all of the countries under study. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was an important actor in refugee status determination of displaced migrants, especially in Tunisia.

All the countries considered in this study promoted some kind of response to the migrants’ return or, in the case of Tunisia, to migrants travelling through or stranded in the country. In most cases, however, lack of funding, concurrent crises elsewhere and lack of comprehensive and long-term perspectives hindered adequate crisis responses. Tunisia is somewhat of an exception in this regard. Following the 2011 crisis, it formulated a contingency plan elaborating guidelines and roles for each relevant institutional stakeholder. This plan has since been used in managing displaced persons arriving from 2014 onwards. Migrant interviewees reported receiving little long-term assistance to help them cope with the consequences of the crisis. Most returnees continued to live precarious existences. A few of those who opted to stay in their country of origin or transit developed economic activities with the help of intergovernmental organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). However, due to lack of prospects for employment or enterprise, a large share of returnees remigrated to Libya or went to another labour migration destination.

This study underlines the need for clear policies on evacuation of nationals caught up in crisis situations abroad. Furthermore, it demonstrates that contingency plans are needed in countries of origin, transit and destination. In the Libya case, concurrent crises in the region meant that emergency humanitarian aid had to be prioritised over long-term reintegration assistance. Strictly speaking, those who fled Libya at the onset of the crisis may at present no longer be categorised as ‘returnees’ based on the time that has elapsed since their return. Nonetheless, effective and transparent reintegration programmes from governments are still needed.