Over the last year or so, Libya has been the subject of many headlines. It represents a rapidly changing humanitarian crisis and is currently host to nearly 60,000 refugees and over 200,000 displaced people (UNHCR), illustrating the increasingly complex humanitarian scenario in the region. In the last few months, Libya has witnessed protests and rebellions and an intensifying geopolitical proxy war, but what is really happening in Libya? 

Revolutions, Civil Wars and the Fall of Gaddafi

In order to get to grips with the current Libyan situation, we must first pay attention to the prior events which led up to the current situation in Libya. What initially began as a peaceful protest against Colonel Muammar Gaddaf. The Libyan people were tired of being dedicated by Gaddafi, and the corruption, poverty and violence that riddled the country. This quickly spiralled into violence as a result of the interference by the security services on a civilian protest in Benghazi in February 2011. This rapidly escalated into ‘widespread and systematic’ attacks against civilians (UNSC, 2011a), many of which have since been highlighted as crimes against humanity. The violence that ensued between Gaddafi loyalists and those who wished to topple his oppressive regime developed into a full-scale civil war. In response, the United Nations Security Council attempted to intervene by issuing an arms embargo and a no-fly zone order. 

The following October, Gaddafi was captured and killed. This heightened the insecurity, instability and violence, demanding help from supranational bodies. The UNSC established a Libya support mission, in order to promote the rule of law, encourage reconciliation and protect human rights (2011b). Eventually, the General National Congress was elected by popular vote with the ultimate goal of establishing a permanent democratic constitution in Libya. Despite the initial goal, this government was divided on central Libyan issues, therefore breeding further insecurity and violence. Namely, the militant attacks in Benghazi which killed three American embassy staff. Ever since, the conflict in Libya has no longer been a domestic affair, it became an international geo-proxy war, whereby there were multiple actors at play all with multiple agendas. 

The internal conflict continued. The GNC extended their power under the premise that they would create a democratic constitution. Not only was this met with much reticence, but they also failed to do so, increasing tensions. The House of Representatives was then elected by August 2014, which created powerful divides in the country. The HoR were based in Tobruq in the east and the GNC were based in Tripoli in the west. 

In an attempt to put a stop to the growing conflict in Libya, the UN proposed the Libyan Political Agreement, which presented the Government of National Accord as a way to bring peace into Libya. However, this establishment has struggled to exert control over the control which has sparked conflict and violence in the two largest cities in Libya – Tripoli and Benghazi. The constant presence of violence has not wavered, and Libya continues to be an extremely dangerous and violent environment. 

Migrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Libya

Against the backdrop of this protracted conflict, people have lost their homes, their families and their lives. The International Organisation for Migration reports that in the last year 200,000 people have been displaced amid increased conflict as well as the global pandemic. Since Libya deteriorated into further violence in early 2019, two thirds of the displacement witnessed was recorded in the capital, Tripoli, with the pattern extending into other conflict zones such as Murzuq, Sirt and Abu Gurayn. This affects Libyan nationals, as well as migrants and refugees who travel from all over Africa. 

Prior to the conflict in Libya, it was already a well known major destination for migrants on the route to Europe. This is partly due to its geographical location. The volume of migrants travelling through Europe has increased dramatically in the last decade, and this correlates with conflicts and standards of living elsewhere; the oppressive dictatorship in Eritrea, the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia and the humanitarian crises in Nigeria for instance.  As of 2019, there were an estimated 669,000 migrants and nearly 60,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Libya. According to the UN, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are considered to be among the most vulnerable people in Libya today (OCHA, 2018a). They face a range of challenges, many of which include heinous human rights violations. The violations are often perpetrated by ‘State officials, armed groups, smugglers, traffickers and criminal gangs’ (UNSC, 2019). As well as this, displaced individuals are more likely to come under crossfire, becoming victim to injury and death as a result of the ongoing internal-strife in Libya. 

Not only is Libya a popular transit route for migrants and refugees, but it is quickly becoming a region where many become trapped. There are at least 1500 people trapped in detention facilities in Libya right now, with the actual figure expected to be much higher. Detention centers see displaced people forced to live in inhumane conditions, where many are cramped into insufficient space, with no access to safe sanitation and limited access to sufficient food and water. Due to this, COVID19 has spread more rapidly around those most vulnerable, and those who have no access to safe healthcare. Those who are not in detention centers are still highly likely to be subject to violence. For instance, many remain in the hands of smugglers and traffickers where they are exploited as slaves or tortured in order to extort money. Whatever the position, migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are subject to unjust and unimaginable violence. 

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