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Map of Libya shown within North Africa
Turmoil and migration

Libya

The International Rescue Committee provides vital health care and protection to vulnerable Libyans, refugees and migrants who have now experienced more than 10 years of protracted crisis and recurring conflict.

Country facts
  • Population: 6.9 million
  • People in need of humanitarian assistance: 800,000, projected to rise to 1.5 million during 2022
  • Humanitarian Development Index rank: 105
IRC response
  • Started work: 2016
  • People assisted in 2021: 141,738

Libya crisis briefing

Libya is at a critical crossroads. Deep divisions continue within the country, as armed groups and forces vie for influence and power. Home to Africa’s longest Mediterranean coastline, Libya also remains the continent’s main departure point to Europe for migrants seeking safety and opportunity. Tens of thousands are intercepted and returned by the Libyan Coast Guard, many of whom face deplorable conditions in detention centers.

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What caused the current crisis in Libya?

Civil war erupted in Libya in 2014, following the 2011 revolution that ended the 42-year regime of Muammar Gaddafi. The oil-rich North African nation has since been engulfed recurring violence. More recently a nationwide ceasefire, a new interim government, and promised elections have offered some hope for future stability. However, the potential collapse of the political process now risks undermining the limited progress made to date. If left unchecked, a return to the more widespread insecurity of previous years and increased suffering is all too likely.

The civilian population remains caught in the middle. Basic public services—health care, education, electricity, banking—are degraded and in some cases completely absent, and the prospect of intensifying conflict is a constant fear. Meanwhile, despite years of crisis, refugees and migrants continue to make the journey to or through Libya.

More than 620,000 migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees are currently in Libya. While some do have legal status and have traveled to Libya to work there, others are undocumented and live in the shadows. Many continue to risk their lives with smugglers to try get to Europe. In 2021, 1,500 people tragically died or went missing at sea, while more than 32,000 were intercepted and returned by the Libyan Coast Guard to then be detained in often deplorable conditions.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Libya?

Years of crisis have disrupted all facets of life: health care, public utilities, jobs, education, financial services, and social safety nets. Restoring primary health services is the most pressing need, with more than 800,000 people requiring immediate heath assistance. Many health facilities across the country are either partially or completely non-functional due to critical shortages of health workers, skilled specialists, medicines and medical supplies. 

Migrants and refugees in Libya are also extremely vulnerable. They are often forced to live in the shadows with severely limited access to the services they need, and are at extreme risk of exploitation, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment.

How does the IRC help in Libya?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future.

IRC anesthesia technician Hedi Kharroubi tends to a patient in the operating room of Libya's Misrata Central Hospital. Photo: Sachan Tomar

Since 2016, the IRC has provided lifesaving health and protection services in Libya, as well as vital support to strengthen the country’s health system. The IRC has two offices in Libya, one in Tripoli and one in Misrata, and more than 220 staff.

As Libya continues to endure political instability and the prospect of intensifying conflict, the IRC is focused on:

  • Providing critical health care in hard-to-reach places, rehabilitating primary health clinics following years of neglect, and supporting public health staff with training, medicines and supplies.
  • Protecting thousands of Libyans, migrants and refugees with individual social work support, counseling and other psychosocial services, and safe spaces for women and children.
  • Providing lifesaving assistance to migrants and refugees who are disembarked in Libyan ports and arbitrarily detained in Libyan detention centers.
  • Promoting social cohesion and peacebuilding by providing safe spaces where young people in Libya can discuss common problems and by training youth in effective communication and negotiation skills and social media literacy.

 

What still needs to be done?

The IRC seeks to expand the support we provide to vulnerable Libyans, refugees and migrants as funding permits. In 2022, we plan to expand our health services in eastern and southern Libya to ensure those in hard-to-reach communities are not left behind.

There is no shortage of needs in Libya, for Libyans, migrants and refugees alike, but low aid commitments from donor countries compared to other humanitarian crises, an especially restrictive security environment[KSA1] [TG2] , and a lack of investment in infrastructure in much of the country continue to pose significant challenges to scaling up our response.

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