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Libya’s Refugee Crisis Remains in the Background Amid Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Ayat Mneina1

The Ukrainian refugee crisis has shone [a light] on the West’s hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to refugees originating from the Global South in comparison to those from the perceived Global North.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, much like any conflict in the world, will have long lasting and long reaching impacts that will be felt for years to come. Displacement is not new to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; conflict and economic crises have driven the forced movement of people for decades.

In Libya, waves of conflict outside and inside its borders have produced subsequent waves of refugees and internally displaced peoples (IDPs). IDPs make up the majority of those requiring humanitarian aid in Libya today. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are over 160,000 IDPs in Libya and nearly 700,000 returnees or former IDPs who have returned back to their home communities. There are over 40,000 asylum seekers in Libya.

In 2011, the entire town of Tawergha was forcefully vacated by rival and neighbouring city of Misrata during the Libyan uprising. Nearly 10,000 families are scattered across various camps and temporary-turned-permanent settlements in Libya. In 2014, over 20,000 families in one of Benghazi’s historic neighbourhoods were displaced when heavy fighting and war broke out, leaving behind the mine-filled scraps of buildings amongst the rubble. The figure for IDPs rose again in 2019 when war broke out in Tripoli, displacing thousands of families - over 200,000 people - caught in the clashes.

Asylum seekers and migrants also find themselves in need of humanitarian aid in Libya as European funds have been allocated to incentivise the interception and prevention of migrants from ever reaching European shores. Many find themselves in an endless loop, held in detention camps where the odds of being subjected to abuse are uncomfortably high and waiting on aid organisations to help resettle them elsewhere.

The recent Russian invasion in Ukraine has had a domino effect well beyond the confines of the conflict zone. Issues that refugees, migrants, and displaced people already face have been further exacerbated. The increased scarcity of food means prices have gone up, jeopardizing both food security and financial security for the world's most vulnerable communities.

Another impact of the Ukrainian refugee crisis is the light it has shone on the West’s hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to refugees originating from the Global South in comparison to those from the perceived Global North. It appears that refugees that look more European, in physical appearance and perhaps faith, are more acceptable than those who do not. Six million refugees from Ukraine have been swiftly and warmly welcomed and resettled by European and Western governments. The same could not be said about Syrian, Iraqi, Afghani, or African refugees. Border closures and millions of euros spent on keeping certain migrants out of Europe have been the rule.

The international community, including humanitarian aid organizations and governments, leave much to be desired in their approach to handling refugee and displacement crises in MENA. Too much money has been spent on solutions that only entrench these vulnerable communities deeper into displacement and further away from the potential to safely return home. Helping rebuild a few homes (or performances of return) or extending the life of temporary camps are not solutions, and yet, millions of dollars continue to only be squandered in this way, without any holistic approach in parallel.

Solutions must include sustained efforts to address long-lasting root causes of forced movement, and provide communities with dignified and meaningful opportunities to rebuild, provide for their families, and safely return home. A shift of focus from helping people survive to helping them thrive is the way forward.

About the Author

Ayat Mneina1

Ayat Mneina

Libyan Researcher and Writer
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