MSF calls for the evacuation of the most vulnerable migrants from Libya to safe countries

In a new report, MSF outlines failings of existing mechanisms to get people out of Libya.

Migrants and refugees in Zintan and Gharyan detention centers in Libya

Libya 2019 © Jérôme Tubiana/MSF

PARIS/NEW YORK, JUNE 20, 2022—Safe countries in Europe, North America, and elsewhere must help evacuate and offer protection to migrants trapped in Libya, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) today. In a report released today, MSF called on these countries to strengthen existing mechanisms and open alternative pathways for migrants trapped in Libya to leave the country safely. 

In the report, Out of Libya, MSF outlines the weakness of existing protections for people trapped in Libya. The few legal pathways to safe countries set up by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are slow and restrictive. People of only nine nationalities can be considered for registration in UNHCR resettlement programs, and for those people, registration is almost impossible outside of Tripoli or for people in detention centers. Additionally, the number of relocation slots available in destination countries is very limited. Of the approximately 40,000 people registered with the UNHCR’s resettlement program just 1,662 left Libya last year, while only about 3,000 people were able to return to their home countries through the IOM’s voluntary return program. Around 600,000 migrants remain in Libya.

Out of Libya report

Out of Libya: Opening safe pathways for vulnerable migrants stuck in Libya

Read the report

"In Libya, the majority of migrants are victims of arbitrary detention, torture, and violence, including sexual violence,” says Claudia Lodesani, MSF Operations manager for Libya. "They have extremely limited possibilities of obtaining physical and legal protection. As a result, the deadly migration route [across] the Mediterranean sea is often their only way out. We believe that safe countries, especially in the European Union (EU)—which has been funding the Libyan coastguard for years and encouraging the forced return of migrants to Libya—have a duty to facilitate the evacuation of these victims of violence and to protect them.”

Since the beginning of MSF’s humanitarian response addressing the needs of migrants in Libya in 2016,  MSF teams have been confronted with the impossibility of protecting  people from harm and difficulty of ensuring continuity of medical care for those with the most severe physical and mental health conditions, including victims of torture—both in detention centers and in the community.

MSF’s report presents various alternative solutions to arbitrary detention in Libya, including those initiated by aid organizations in association with some governments. In Italy, a humanitarian corridor has already been opened to enable the evacuation of a number of highly vulnerable people in need of protection, including patients treated by MSF in Libya. In France, discussions between MSF and authorities are underway to evacuate survivors of torture and violence as well as people with serious medical conditions. Those evacuated in this way would be taken care of by MSF on their arrival in France. MSF calls for this type of mechanism to be duplicated in other safe countries.

Migrants and refugees in Zintan and Gharyan detention centres in Libya

“Trying to cross the sea is facing death, but staying in Libya is facing death too”

Like most refugees and asylum seekers who fled Eritrea, John, now 38, left his country to escape mandatory and indefinite national service—an institution criticized by the United Nation’s Human Rights Council for terrible conditions and treatment.

Read John's Story

"The medical care of people who are arbitrarily and indefinitely detained, or at risk of systematic violence, poses many dilemmas,” said Jérôme Tubiana, MSF advocacy manager for Libya. “Realistically, what we can do to help them in Libya is limited. To truly protect the most vulnerable people, we must first and foremost urgently get them out of the detention system and out of the country."

MSF is one of the few international nongovernmental organizations working in Libya. MSF’s teams provide general health care and psychosocial support to migrants held in detention centers and living in makeshift housing. MSF also organizes the transfer of more seriously ill people to hospital and helps those who wish to do so to register for the UNHCR and IOM’s programs to help them leave the country.