Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 16:28 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Libya

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Libya, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 17 December 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.

LBY figures


Libya hosted about 16,000 refugees, mainly Palestinians, Sudanese, Somalis, and Iraqis.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

In July, Libya forcibly repatriated a number of Eritreans and throughout the year, returned others to countries where they risked persecution, and collectively deported thousands it suspected of illegal entry without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum.

In March, the Government threatened to deport Palestinian refugees to the Gaza Strip in response to a Saudi peace initiative that it feared would stem Palestinians' right of return and "liquidate the Palestinian cause."

In January 2008, the Government threatened to deport summarily all foreigners without legal status – possibly more than a million people – including many from Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan, claiming that none of them was a refugee.

There were reports that authorities beat, raped, and sexually abused refugees in detention and that some may have died in custody from such treatment. An estimated 1,900 died attempting to migrate irregularly from Libya to Europe in 2007, down from nearly 2,100 the year before. On two occasions in May, Libya refused to rescue at least two boats of migrants in distress in its territorial waters. In one case, the 57 Eritreans made it back to shore where authorities arrested them and put them in jail. In the other, even though Libyan authorities said they would send a boat for them, some 27 West Africans clung to the net of a tuna boat for at least 24 hours before an Italian vessel picked them up. In June, authorities ignored the distress call of another boat carrying 29 Eritreans.

Libya was not party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its Protocol but was party to the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. It also endorsed the 1965 Protocol for the Treatment of Palestinians in Arab States (Casablanca Protocol) but with reservations on its first article guaranteeing the right to work on par with nationals. A 1989 law granted Arab citizens the same rights granted to Libyans. Although the 1969 Constitutional Proclamation prohibited the extradition of "political refugees" and the 1991 Endorsement of Freedom Law offered "shelter for oppressed people and those struggling for freedom," Libya had no law on granting refugee status and the Government claimed there were no political refugees in the country.

Libya had no Memorandum of Understanding with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) but did allow UNHCR to conduct refugee status determinations (RSDs) under its mandate and issue letters of attestation to those it granted. An increase in applications, however, contributed to an eight-month delay for an appointment with the agency.

Libya had readmission agreements with Italy and the United Kingdom, cooperated closely with the EU border agency Frontex and other European countries to block migrants, and entered into an agreement in December for six Italian naval ships to patrol its coast with Libyan sailors on board to interdict irregular migrants. According to Human Rights Watch, such cooperation was "often without adequate regard for the rights of migrants or the need to protect refugees and others at risk of abuse on return to their home countries." Libya also reportedly had a tacit agreement with Eritrea to return its nationals and allowed the International Organization for Migration to open an EU-funded center in March 2008 to return migrants as "a complementary concept to deportations."

Detention/Access to Courts

Libya maintained detention camps and reportedly held and threatened to repatriate about 500 Eritreans, including over 50 women and children. In June, after ignoring their ship's distress calls, authorities reportedly arrested and jailed more than 50 Eritreans who made it back to shore. In July, authorities arrested some 70 asylum seekers and held them in Al Zawiyah, about 24 miles (40 km) west of Tripoli. When the Government arrested people for illegal entry, it did not formally charge them and they usually remained in detention indefinitely or until deportation. While most had no access to a lawyer or opportunity to challenge their detention in court, authorities did bring those charged with common crimes or captured trying to enter Malta or Italy before a court.

The Government allowed UNHCR to visit three detention centers. However, it severely limited access to all detention centers for independent monitoring. In August, UNHCR conducted an RSD and resettlement mission in the Misurata holding center. According to the U.S. State Department, conditions in migrant detention centers reportedly improved since 2005, in particular, medical services.

Refugees received no government documents affirming their right to stay in the country. UNHCR issued refugees letters attesting to their protected status but authorities did not always recognize them. A 2005 law allowed foreigners and refugees UNHCR recognized to receive a permit (red card) for a stay of up to three months while they fulfilled the necessary requirements for a residence permit (green card).

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Libya had no refugee camps, having shut down the last one in 2004, but police harassed those who lacked residence permits or identity documents when traveling. Refugees could not obtain residence permits, however, without regular work contracts.

Libya issued no international travel documents to refugees.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Libya had no law allowing refugees to work. It maintained a reservation to the article of the 1965 Casablanca Protocol that would grant Palestinian refugees the right to work on par with nationals and instead offered parity with other Arab citizens.

Law 6 of 1987, amended by Law 2 of 2004, required foreigners, without exception for refugees, to have contracts with employers in order to work, proof that Libyans could not fill the positions, health certificates verifying that they had no contagious diseases including HIV/AIDS, and registration with tax authorities.

In general, refugees did not have the right to run businesses, obtain necessary licenses, or own property, but the Government allowed a few Palestinian and Iraqi refugees to run businesses.

Public Relief and Education

UNHCR gave time-limited subsistence allowances only to the poorest refugees. International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were not present in Libya and local ones were more interested in refugees in Chad, Guinea, and Pakistan, but, in February, UNHCR concluded a partnership agreement with the Libyan NGO, International Organization for Peace, Care and Relief. UNHCR sponsored self-reliance activities, including microcredit agricultural schemes, vocational training, and apprenticeships to phase out protracted aid. Palestinian refugees received free health services and education from the Government, while other refugees received health services through UNHCR. After allowing all Arabic-speaking students to attend primary and secondary schools for free, in July, the Government began charging foreigners high fees. In November, however, the Government exempted refugee children. In January 2008, as it threatened mass expulsions of mostly African migrants, the Government also threatened to fine and take other legal action against citizens who sheltered them.

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