1. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and refugees flee Libya
The conflict that began in Libya on 17 February 2011 with a popular revolt against the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, following the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions in January, triggered a mass exodus of the civilian population into neighboring countries. The violence perpetrated by Gaddafi’s security forces against civilians, the conflict led by rebel groups controlling eastern Libya to overthrow the regime and NATO bombings have caused thousands of deaths and injuries and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country. In addition, as detailed in this report, violence specifically targeting immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa has forced thousands of migrant workers and refugees to flee Libya.
According to figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) dated 20 June 2011, more than 1.1 million people have fled Libya since late February, mostly over land borders with Tunisia and Egypt. Of those only about 19,000 exiles have tried to escape by sea, arriving in Lampedusa and Malta between 26 March and 14 June 2011, representing 1.7% of the exodus from Libya. Fantasies of “invasion” voiced in Europe have therefore no basis in reality, but have nonetheless been used to justify extraordinary surveillance measures at sea aiming to prevent the arrival of migrants and refugees into European territory. The multiplication of these barriers has had dramatic consequences – as of 14 June the UNHCR estimates that over 2,000 people have drowned while fleeing Libya since February - and contributes to violations of the right to seek refuge abroad.
The vast majority of those fleeing Libya between February and June were immigrants working in Libya: over 500,000 persons originating from Egypt, Tunisia, Asia (Bangladesh, Pakistan and china) and numerous Sub-Saharan African countries.
Libya, with its vast oil reserves and small population (approximately 6.4 million), resorted massively to foreign labor to run its economy: a figure of 1.5 million migrant workers before the start of the conflict is most commonly cited, but other estimates are around 2.5 million (including about 1 million Egyptians).
Download the report of the FIDH mission