Libya: assisting and protecting migrant groups

Project completed
CESVI distributes medicine and hygiene kits in Benghazi, in eastern Libya.
CESVI is an Italian organisation that distributes medicine and hygiene kits in Benghazi, in eastern Libya. © ph. Giovanni Diffidenti/Cesvi ©

For thousands of people fleeing violence or extreme poverty, Libya is one of the most popular departure points for reaching Europe across the Mediterranean. The SDC supports two NGOs that aid migrants there who fall victim to attack or arbitrary detention. In 2015, Switzerland devoted CHF 2 million to the issues of migration and the protection of civilians in Libya.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Human rights
Rule of Law - Democracy - Human rights
Human rights (incl. Women's rights)
Migration generally (development aspects and partnerships)
Primary health care
01.06.2015 - 28.02.2017
CHF  422’684

Despite the diversification of migration routes, Libya continues to serve as a transit hub for thousands of victims of violence attempting to reach Europe by sea. In 2015, over 150,000 people managed to cross the Mediterranean, in some cases being rescued at sea, while more than 2,900 people lost their lives in this perilous journey.

So far in 2016, the flow of migrants through the Mediterranean route has expanded, as borders in the Balkan region have been tightened. Between January and April 2016, an estimated 16,500 migrants reached Italy from the Libyan coast. Drifting migrant vessels being rescued again made the news during this time.

Numerous rights violations

Aspiring migrants come from a large number of countries, beginning with Libya itself. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), almost half a million Libyans are displaced within their own country, most of them having fled the violence and fighting that has ravaged the country since 2011. Their ranks are swelled by thousands of people from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, who are recognised war refugees or asylum seekers. Many economic migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, travel through Libya as well.

These mixed migrants, as UNHCR calls them, have one thing in common: many of them fall prey to a range of human rights violations while in Libya. Physical attacks, arbitrary detention and restrictions on their movement are daily occurrences. In addition, the availability of health care and other basic services is extremely limited. This applies to those hoping to cross the Mediterranean and those rescued at sea.

Providing assistance in Benghazi and Tripoli

The SDC has responded to this situation by supporting two NGOs – CESVI and the Danish Refugee Council – that help migrant groups in various ways. CESVI is an Italian organisation that distributes medicine and hygiene kits in Benghazi, in eastern Libya. It also provides psychological support to those in need, transferring specific cases to specialised organisations as needed. Its services benefit nearly 2,000 people. The NGO also provides local staff working in migrant detention centres with training in such areas as the protection of civilians, mixed migration, human rights and migrant rights.

The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) delivers the same services in the region around the capital Tripoli, including training programmes and awareness-raising efforts aimed at supervisory staff. Its services have helped more than 3,000 migrants. Migrants are particularly grateful for the opportunity to call their loved ones back home using a free telephone service set up by the DRC in the holding centres.

Human rights and protection  

The two SDC-supported NGOs place a heavy premium on providing legal and psychosocial support to migrant groups in Libya. For most of these refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, the various procedures awaiting them are confusing and daunting. And those who find themselves incarcerated simply do not know their rights.

CESVI and the DRC spend a significant amount of time identifying the needs of the migrants that they choose to support, with a focus on the most vulnerable among them. The two organisations then refer the cases to the competent national authorities and to UNHCR. When individuals and families obtain official refugee status, the NGOs take the necessary steps to ensure they benefit from all the associated protective rights.

Migration and protection are among the priorities guiding Switzerland's efforts in North Africa. In Libya alone, the SDC spent more than CHF 2 million in 2015 in support of various projects in these two sectors.