Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2017, 11:39 GMT

Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Libya

Publisher Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC)
Publication Date 19 April 2012
Cite as Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Libya, 19 April 2012, available at: [accessed 25 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Quick facts
Number of IDPsAt least 154,000
Percentage of total populationAt least 2.4%
Start of current displacement situation2011
Peak number of IDPs (Year)243,000 (2011)
New displacementAt least 500,000
Causes of displacementArmed conflict, generalised violence, human rights violations
Human development index64

Following the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, antigovernment protests in Libya rapidly escalated in February 2011 to an armed conflict which led to the end of the 41-year rule of Muammar Qadhafi, causing several waves of forced displacement. Overall, it is estimated that at least 500,000 people were internally displaced in 2011 as a result of the widespread clashes between pro-Qadhafi and opposition forces and the NATO-coordinated bombardment of the country. Although most of the people displaced returned to their places of origin shortly after the conflict had subsided, an estimated 154,000 people were still displaced at the end of 2011.

The frontlines moved back and forth across Libya: government forces initially controlled most of the west of the country including Tripoli, and opposition groups, who formed the National Transitional Council (NTC) in March, the east. The conflict was particularly intense in certain areas, including the western Nafusa Mountains and cities including Ajdabiya, Misrata, Bani Walid and Sirte. In these cities, sustained sieges or attacks with prolonged shelling and street-to-street fighting led to significant displacement.

Most IDPs took refuge in urban areas. They often fled to nearby towns or moved to safer neighbourhoods within the same city, as in Ajdabiya, Misrata and Tripoli. Most of them stayed with relatives or host families, or sought shelter in public buildings including schools, in coastal holiday resorts, factories or building sites. There were also reports of IDPs staying in improvised settlements in the desert, for fear of harassment from parties to the conflict. This was repeatedly the case for families from Ben Jawad and other towns along the coast to the west of Ras Lanuf.

Throughout the conflict, indiscriminate attacks put civilians including people fleeing the conflict at risk. The presence of landmines and other unexploded ordnance in conflict areas also made it harder for IDPs to return safely and re-establish their livelihoods. The conflict disrupted supply lines, damaged infrastructure and left people facing shortages of drinking water, fuel and medicine. It reduced access to education and health care: hospitals were left heavily dependent on local volunteers after the exodus of migrant workers.

As of early October, returns had increased in many areas where the fighting had subsided following advances by the opposition forces. The NTC declared the country's liberation in late October, when the hostilities in Sirte and Bani Walid ended. Nevertheless, at the end of 2011, tens of thousands of people were still unable to return to their place of origin because their home had been destroyed, damaged or occupied by others, or because they did not think it would be safe.

Some groups faced reprisal attacks, particularly foreign nationals and others alleged to have been loyal to the Qadhafi government. An estimated 30,000 inhabitants of the city of Tawergha, south of Misrata, were prohibited from returning: they were considered loyal to Qadhafi, and continued to endure violence and human rights violations in their place of displacement, including arbitrary detention, abductions and torture.

During the conflict, IDPs in areas controlled by Qadhafi's government, such as Tripoli, Zlitan and Gharian, were provided with assistance by the government, the Libyan Red Crescent Society and some private charities. In opposition-held areas, new local councils emerged and played a major role in assisting conflict-affected communities including the displaced population. Libyan organisations provided critical assistance; however, the capacity of civil society organisations remained constrained by their lack of resources and geographical reach. IDPs in improvised shelters in the desert were generally out of the reach of support.

International humanitarian agencies responded rapidly from the onset of the crisis. They initially gathered at the Libyan borders to support those leaving the country. Their presence gradually increased in opposition-controlled areas including Benghazi, Misrata and along the Nafusa Mountains, but their activities in government-controlled areas remained limited.

The cluster system was activated in April, to coordinate international organisations' responses to the most urgent needs of the affected population. A revised regional flash appeal published in May called for new focus on the needs of conflict-affected communities within the country, including IDPs. However, humanitarian organisations struggled to respond to fast-moving fronts and new waves of displacement, limited access in government-controlled areas, constraints in resources and capacity and prevailing insecurity in conflict-affected areas. At the end of the year the cluster system was deactivated and humanitarian activities gave way to longer-term recovery planning. However parts of the population had continuing need of humanitarian support, and groups including remaining IDPs still faced very significant threats and barriers to their recovery.

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