In 2018 refugee and migrant sea arrivals from Libya to Europe have been at an unprecedented low since the onset of refugee and migrant sea arrivals from 2011 onwards: only 15,342 refugees and migrants arrived from Libya in 2018, a seven-fold decrease compared to the previous year.1 Interceptions and returns to Libya, operated by the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG), increased drastically, with 47 per cent of all individuals who left Libya by boat being returned to the country, 15,235 individuals.2 At the same time, the risk of death at sea doubled from two per cent in 2017 to four per cent in 2018.
Three thousand three hundred and eleven individuals were reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean sea off the Libyan coast in 2018.4 The decline in arrivals at Italian shores, and rise in deaths at sea, has coincided with three major trends in the Mediterranean region: first, since early 2017, a number of migration measures have been implemented in Libya and the Sahel region in cooperation with the European Union (EU) to stem the flow of arrivals to Italy, one of which included increased EU support for the LCG along the western coast of the country.5 Second, in mid-2018, Libyan authorities declared a Libyan Search And Rescue (SAR) zone off Libya’s western coast, in a maritime area previously mostly coordinated by the Italian coast guard, enabling Libyan authorities to return shipwrecked individuals to Libya, rather than carrying rescued individuals to European shores.6,7 Third, since mid-2017 increased legal and political attacks on charity and privately-run rescue ships have led to an almost complete seizure of all rescue at sea activities by charity or privately-run rescue boats.8 As of January 2019, only one privately-run SAR boat was operating between Libya and Italy.
At the same time, the situation for the 670,000 refugees and migrants estimated to be in Libya in 201810 remains severe, as documented by a variety of UN and other international actors.
Human rights violations and abuses against refugees and migrants are reportedly perpetrated by ‘a range of State officials, armed groups, smugglers and traffickers’, both inside and outside official detention centres.11,12,13 In August 2018, armed clashes reemerged in western Tripoli, displacing an estimated 3,845 households and illustrating the still highly volatile security situation in Libya.
As the severe protection risks for refugees and migrants in Libya are well documented, and the possibility to leave the country via sea is increasingly shrinking, the question arises as to what the impact of these developments is on mixed migration routes to and within Libya, and the extent to which developments along the coast and in the country impact flows to Libya and from Libya to neighbouring countries. In a study conducted in April 2018, IMPACT’s initiative REACH had found that migration routes to and within Libya had diversified as a result of migration measures implemented, with an increase in smuggling hubs in the east of the country.15 The study also found that refugees and migrants remained increasingly hidden, moving as little as possible, to cope with the severe protection risks faced. At the same time, knowledge about the security situation in Libya and migration measures implemented had reportedly not impacted refugees’ and migrants’ decision to go or stay in Libya.
The present assessment, conducted in partnership with UNHCR, builds on the findings identified during the first study, with the aim to identify changes in mixed migration dynamics in Libya in December 2018, eight months after REACH’s previous study on mixed migration dynamics, in April 2018. It explores in greater depth: (1) changes in migration routes to Libya since April 2018; (2) changes in refugee and migrant mobility within Libya, with a particular focus on the East and the impact of increased violent clashes in parts of Libya on mobility within the country and (3) the extent to which migration of refugees and migrants from Libya to neighbouring countries has been changing, as a result of developments along Libya’s coast and continued protection risks for refugees and migrants inside Libya.
The assessment finds that mixed migration routes to and within Libya have not changed since April 2018. While a decrease in arrivals from Niger was recorded, there seems to be an increase in refugees and migrants entering Libya via Chad. At the same time, albeit the severe protection risks and increasingly more limited economic opportunities refugees and migrants face in Libya, reasons for migration to Libya of newly arrived individuals had not changed, as the situation in countries of origin reportedly had not improved. Emigration to Libya’s neighbouring countries was reportedly low, as respondents still felt that Libya remained the most attractive destination for refugees and migrants in the region, both to work and to transit to Italy. Considering alternative future destinations in the region, the most reported potential future destination for refugees and migrants in the region was Tunisia.