Libya’s Illegal Migration: The Urgent Need for a New Strategy

Written by | Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

More than 2,500 migrants were rescued and 50 went missing at sea over the 10 June weekend after leaving Libya. According to the UN refugee agency, the migrants originated mainly from sub-Saharan Africa and were sent onto the sea in dilapidated boats off the coast of the troubled North African country. The International Organization for Migration said that that the arrivals of migrants are rising again with the number having already reached an estimated 60,521 by 24 May with around four-fifths of them arriving in Italy. By mid-May, more than 1,500 had died at sea as well.

Most of these migrants travel to Libya, which makes the country the center of bilateral and multilateral efforts to tame migration flows to the EU. The country itself is a very dire security situation, facing a complex transition of power after Muammar Gaddafi had been toppled in 2011. The country has had difficulties imposing order on the many armed militias that have been fighting for power since Gaddafi’s fall.

In February, Libya signed a migrant deal with Italy to address illegal migration, which was the first step in organized efforts from the side of the EU to step up the combat against smugglers. During the Valletta Summit in Malta, the EU further intensified its efforts to support Libya, which included programs to train the coast guard, strengthen border control in the south and boost the country’s hosting capacity for blocked and readmitted migrants.

The sort of migrant deal that Europe struck with Libya, however, does not gather much support in Brussels. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Libya and Italy was blocked on 22 March by the Tripoli Appeals Court for the lack of approval by Libya’s House of Representatives and, outside the country, analysts think that relying on conflict-ridden Libya for an effective governance of migration flows is a stretch.

To deal with migration effectively, one must address the political economy created by migrant smuggling. The main goal should be to break the transnational networks that have been in making for a couple of years, gradually isolate their criminal leadership from other groups and individuals whose livelihoods have become dependent on smuggling amidst the lack of other alternatives.

However, a viable long-term solution requires economic alternatives to develop the regions of the country that have been hit most by smuggling routes as well as alternative forms of livelihoods for the locals. This can be achieved only through a settlement of the political conflict and economic recovery including the rebuilding of infrastructure.


‘Libya’s Illegal Migration: The Urgent Need for a New Strategy’ – Opinion by

Luigi Narbone – European University Institute.

(The Opinion can be downloaded here)

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