UNHCR position on returns to Libya (Update II) - September 2018


  1. This document provides an update of and replaces the UNHCR Position on Returns to Libya (Update I) published in October 2015. It is based on information available up to 3 September 2018, unless otherwise stated.

  2. The current situation in Libya is characterized by political and military fragmentation, hostilities between competing military factions, the proliferation of armed groups and a general climate of lawlessness, as well as a deteriorating human rights situation. Since 2014, armed conflict between rival armed groups has resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, disrupted people’s access to basic services and livelihoods, and destroyed vital infrastructure. In 2017, armed conflict and political instability reportedly had a direct impact on the lives of around 25 per cent of the population. Insecurity and the lack of governance have enabled illicit activities such as corruption as well as people smuggling and human trafficking to thrive, further fuelling instability in the country.

Political and Security Developments

  1. Since the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his government in October 2011, successive transitional governance arrangements have failed to end the political impasse and resulting internal conflict. The UN-backed Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), signed on 17 December 2015, failed to unify the rival political and military authorities under a single administration. As a result, Libya currently has two ruling powers, one based in the capital Tripoli and one based in the eastern cities of Tobruk and Al-Bayda. In Tripoli, the Presidency Council, which was formed under the terms of the LPA, is led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, who carries out the functions of head of state and Supreme Commander of the Libyan Army. The Presidency Council presides over the Government of National Accord (GNA), the internationally recognized Government of Libya. The High Council of State, a consultative body established under the LPA, also operates from Tripoli and its elected head is Khaled Mishri. The second power centre is made up of the House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk, which, under the LPA, would become the legitimate legislative authority; however, the HoR has to date not recognized the LPA and instead endorsed the rival “Interim Government” of Abdullah Al-Thinni based in the eastern city of Al-Bayda. The Tobruk and Al-Bayda-based authorities are reportedly aligned with and dominated by General Khalifa Haftar, who leads the Libyan National Army (LNA), a coalition of former army units and tribal or regional-based armed groups that controls a large section of central and eastern Libya.The former Islamist-dominated Government of National Salvation, which was formed in 2014 and led by Khalifa Al-Ghwell, reportedly no longer controls any relevant institutions after Ghwell’s forces were expelled from Tripoli in early 2017. The two rival governments are reported to compete over political legitimacy, control of territory, resources and infrastructure (e.g. oil facilities, ports).

  2. In September 2017, a UN-sponsored “Action Plan for Libya” was launched, which aims at reinvigorating the political process by amending and implementing the LPA, convening an inclusive national conference, passing a constitution by popular referendum, and holding elections based on a new electoral law. On 29 May 2018 in Paris, four key Libyan political figures reportedly reached a tentative agreement to issue new election laws by September 2018 and hold presidential and legislative elections on a “constitutional basis” in December 2018. However, concerns have been raised that Libya currently lacks conditions conducive to a free and fair vote and that elections may risk further political fragmentation and conflict.

  3. The Presidency Council reportedly struggles to assert full control over territory and institutions in accordance with the LPA, and has been beset by internal divisions. In this continued political vacuum, a myriad of armed groups, divided across ideological, regional, ethnic and tribal lines and with their own changing interests and loyalties, are reported to remain the most powerful actors on the ground. Conflict dynamics are often shaped by regional and local interests with local conflicts partly overlapping with divisions at the national level. GNA-aligned armed groups reportedly control Tripoli, Misrata and other towns in western Libya, and most of the western coastal region. Many of these groups reportedly receive central State funds and assume law enforcement functions such as arrests and detention; however, there is reportedly no effective government command and oversight. Groups affiliated with the LNA reportedly control large parts of eastern Libya as well as parts of the southern region.

  4. The Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) reportedly no longer controls any territory after it was ousted from the city of Sirte in December 2016 by joint US forces and forces loyal to the GNA.However, it reportedly still maintains a presence around Sirte as well as in other areas of Libya and continues to carry out attacks against civilian and military targets. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) reportedly maintains a presence around the southern town of Ubari, where it exploits the lack of governance for logistics, recruitment and training, as well as smuggling activities.

  5. The overall security situation reportedly remains poor and volatile. The situation is characterized by persistent lawlessness, intermittent but increasing fighting between rival armed groups (including between GNA-aligned forces, forces under the control of General Haftar, local militias, tribes, as well as affiliates of ISIS and AQIM), and widespread kidnappings for criminal and political reasons. The South continues to see intermittent intercommunal conflict primarily between tribal and ethnic groups, some of which are aligned with either the GNA or the LNA, including over control of smuggling routes and resources. The reported presence of foreign mercenaries,36 transnational jihadist groups and criminal networks further destabilizes the situation.