Although around the turn of the 21st century, a significant proportion of migrants came to view Libya as a transit country to continue their journey to Europe, a sizable migrant population still considers Libya as a country of destination, primarily coming to the country in the quest of seasonal or long term work opportunities. Labour migration to Libya is not a new phenomenon. Historically, in the wake of the discovery of oil and hydrocarbon reserves across the country and the launch of large scale development projects such as the Great Man-Made River, Libya sought foreign manpower to fill the local labour market deficiencies, unable to cover the scale of work resulting from its expanding economy. Foreign manpower was mostly supplied by Arab countries, mainly from neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia, but also by Asian and East European nationals. Later on, following an arm and air Embargo imposed on Libya, the Gaddhafi regime, perceiving a lack of support from fellow Arab countries, adopted a Pan-Africanist approach. In doing so, it redirected the country’s foreign policies towards neighbouring sub-Saharan African states. This resulted in multiple bilateral and multilateral cooperation agreements between Libya and several sub-Saharan African countries, primarily characterised by the introduction of visa-free travel and facilitation of land borders’ crossing for sub-Saharan migrants. Consequently, the composition of the migrant population in Libya became more diverse, coming from a wide array of countries and regions of origin. Since then, and despite the country’s deterioration into protracted conflict and the imposition of stricter migration policies, the lucrative economic opportunities in Libya continued to attract foreign workers from Sub-Saharan Africa, the MENA region and to a lesser extent, from South Asia, occupying jobs in key sectors of the country’s economy. As of December 2020, 574,146 migrants are estimated to be living in Libya. A large proportion of the migrant population resides in the country irregularly and works in the informal sector.This, coupled with the absence of legal instruments safeguarding migrants’ rights, exacerbates migrants’ vulnerability to protection risks outside as well as inside the workplace and imposes further barriers to accessing employment. A previous assessment conducted by REACH,22 in 2017, found that the majority of migrants in Libya drew their main source of income from lower-skilled informal jobs, often daily or temporary, in sectors such as construction, cleaning and the restaurant industry. The study also showed that migrants frequently relied on their social network, particularly friends and family to obtain information regarding employment in Libya.
Migrants’ ability to access livelihoods and employment opportunities has been severely affected by the onset of the COVID19 health crisis in Libya. As the pandemic spread to Libya on 24 March 2020, several measures were introduced by the Libyan authorities aiming to combat the spread of the virus such as curfews, movement restrictions, the interdiction of all gatherings and the closure of all non-essential shops. These restrictions presented an enormous economic risk for certain segments of the population and made specific groups particularly vulnerable. As a result of the government-imposed confinement, many migrant day labourers have been deprived of their income sources for reasons such as the loss of their jobs or the closure of the places where they operate, as highlighted by a recent REACH study on the impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable communities.
While previous studies aimed to explore labour migration in Libya, little information exists on how migrants access the labour market, the role intermediaries play in enabling them to access the labour market and how such dynamics differ by migrant communities, skills set and length of stay in Libya. Furthermore, following the onset of the COVID-19 crisis hindering access to livelihoods, an understanding of how the health crisis impacted migrants’ ability to access employment opportunities as well as their ability to sustain themselves remains limited. For the abovementioned reasons, REACH, in partnership with ILO, is conducting an assessment that aims to improve understanding of how migrants access the labour market in Libya, while zooming in on the role intermediaries play in facilitating that. Additionally, the proposed assessment will explore the impact of Covid-19 on migrant’s ability to access the labour market in Libya and to sustain their livelihoods.
2.2 Intended impact
Through its findings, this assessment intends to:
Support the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other relevant stakeholders in the process of developing a legal framework that will ensure the fair recruitment of migrant workers and the safeguarding of their rights;
Feed into ILO’s work with the Ministry of Labour to identify opportunities to develop bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries and advocate for the fair recruitment of migrants;
Provide a general understanding of the Libyan economy’s needs in regards to the migrant labour force;
Support actors in the planning of an efficient, evidence-based response.