30th Nov 2023

'No progress in years' in Libya, says UN migration body

  • Libyan coast guard in Malta's search and rescue zone (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)
Listen to article

An UN-affiliated body working in Libya has offered a bleak outlook of a country that remains gripped by armed militias.

Federico Soda, who heads the Libya mission for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), described a vicious cycle of abuse in the country.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"We have really made no progress in years," he told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday (24 May).

"Not enough is being done to change or to try and influence change," he said, noting that the EU cannot just stop migrant crossings and think the issue has been resolved.

Soda also said migrant smuggling and trafficking "is quite alive and well" in Libya.

He did not implicate the Libyan coast guard in smuggling when pressed but said there is often a blurring of lines between state institutions and armed groups.

"That's not unique to the [Libyan] coast guard, that's just a little bit of the reality," he said.

The European Commission intends to deliver more vessels to the guard , which it says are saving lives in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Libyans intercepted over 32,000 people at sea last year, it said. But once returned, many face horrendous conditions in detention centres.

Libya's Department for Combating Illegal Immigration, or DCIM, run so-called official detention centres.

Impunity and detention centres

But now some are being run by the Stabilisation Support Authority (SSA), set up by government decree in 2021.

Amnesty International has described the SSA as a state-funded militia that operates with impunity.

The SSA not only runs detention centres, but also intercepts refugees and migrants at sea, says Amnesty.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) made similar assertions, noting that the SSA-run al-Mayah detention centre is off limits to humanitarian and civil organisations.

A former Libyan police lieutenant also told EUobserver last year that everyone takes a cut from the smuggling business, including the coast guard.

"Many of these boats are being recycled between the Libyan coast guard and the smugglers," he said.

The issue remains contentious because the European Commission asserts it adheres to a 'Do No Harm' principle in Libya.

Francisco Gaztelu Mezquiriz, a senior commission official, says the EU institution hired an outside contractor to ensure compliance to the principle.

"So far, the contractor didn't report any violations of the do no harm principle directly related to all costs by our Trust Fund programmes," he told European lawmakers in April.

The EU fund has mobilised some €465.3m for projects in Libya. More than half has gone to protecting migrants, including voluntary returns, said Mezquiriz.

Most migrants in Libya don't go to Europe

The vast majority of people going to Libya come from neighbouring countries such as Chad, Egypt, Niger, and Sudan.

Those four nationalities account for some two-thirds of migrants in Libya. Very few seek to go to Europe.

IOM estimates from 2020 suggest Libya had up to 680,000 migrants.

This dropped to around 500,000 during the pandemic and is now the rise again, hovering around 650,000 at the start of the year.

The IOM says the relative absence of conflict in Libya and gains in the economy is luring more people to the country.

It has also noted a reduction in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

EU makes bogus claims on Libya coast guard safety

The European Commission continues to claim its actions supporting the Libyan coast guard are designed to save lives at sea. But those intercepted are often sent to detention centres where they face torture, rape and murder.

On board with SOS Méditerranée

NGO sea-rescue mission exposes reality of EU 'values'

The NGO search-and-rescue vessel Ocean Viking was the only civilian ship at sea. In the span of just four days, it saved nearly 600 people - often in a race with an aggressive Libyan coast guard.

On board with SOS Méditerranée

Libyan police lieutenant: 'Coast guard are smugglers'

The Libyan coast guard actively works with smugglers and are run by a militia, an ex-Libyan lieutenant police officer. The EU is buying the guard three new P150 high speed patrol boats.

Libya to get new EU-funded boats despite crimes

The EU Commission is to deliver three new 'P150' patrol boats to the Libyan coast guard, despite a recent UN report citing possible crimes against humanity at Libyan detention centres.


EU should help, not worsen, the refugee crisis in Libya

As MEPs debate the situation in Libya in the plenary for the first time in four years, the International Rescue Committee's Libya director says the EU must act now to prevent the country spiralling further into chaos.

Latest News

  1. 'Pay or okay?' — Facebook & Instagram vs the EU
  2. EU offers Turkey upgrade, as Sweden nears Nato entry
  3. Russia loses seat on board of chemical weapons watchdog
  4. Finland's closure of Russia border likely violates asylum law
  5. The EU's 'no added sugars' fruit-juice label sleight-of-hand
  6. EU belittles Russia's Lavrov on way to Skopje talks
  7. Member states stall on EU ban on forced-labour products
  8. EU calls for increased fuel supplies into Gaza

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  3. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  4. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?
  5. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  6. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  3. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  4. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us