Libyans desperate to flee violence risk the dangerous crossing to Europe
Today, November 2, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on migration between the Italian and Libyan governments will automatically renew for three years. The European Union (EU)-sponsored agreement has seen millions of dollars of financial and technical support given to the Libya Coast Guard, who have intercepted more than 100,000 people at sea since it was first signed in 2017, forcibly returning them to Libyan detention centers and trapping them in a cycle of abuse. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams operating in Libya and the Mediterranean Sea have witnessed first-hand the cycle of harm this agreement has funded and repeatedly stated that Libya is not a safe place for migrants to be returned to.
In the middle of night, a small wooden boat emerged from the darkness in international waters off the coast of Libya. The 40 people on board had been sailing for many hours after fleeing Libya in search of safety in Europe. Lunja, the youngest on board, just seven months old, was one of the first to be rescued from the boat and safely transported to the Geo Barents, a search and rescue ship operated by the international humanitarian medical organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Lunja’s father, Tarek*, puts a life-jacket on her five-year-old brother, Ghani. “The only reason I put my family through this is to provide for their future,” said Tarek, 35, who is from an Imazighen village near the coast in Libya and fled the country with his wife and two children. “Libya is a dangerous place where militias control everything. I don’t have control over my life: militias do. Every week, someone is killed for no reason. I’m terrified that something bad will happen to my son when we go for a walk. I would just walk around holding his hand to feel a bit safer.”
For Tarek the collapse of his country, along with the destruction of his dreams and hope for the future, paved the way to his decision to escape from Libya. Other Libyans like Tarek and his family are attempting the dangerous crossing from Libya to Europe. Between June 2021 and October 2022, they rescued 121 Libyan citizens from boats in distress in the central Mediterranean Sea.
After the Gaddafi’s regime fell in 2011, civil war broke out, and Libya essentially became a battlefield for armed groups competing for power.. A June 2022 report by the United Nations Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya described systematic violations on human rights including against migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. It documented direct and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, murder, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced disappearance, and inhumane acts committed in detention centers.