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World leaders must seize the opportunity at a conference on the future of Libya this week to make tangible improvements in the lives of people who have not known peace for more than a decade, four aid groups working in Libya said today.
The Berlin International Conference on Libya, to be hosted by the German government and the United Nations on 23 June, is aimed at supporting the political process in Libya and promoting stabilization efforts more than seven months into a fragile ceasefire, and just six months before elections are aimed to take place.
“The stability of Libya will not come about by just holding elections or withdrawing foreign fighters,” said Dax Roque, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Country Director in Libya. “True stability can only be achieved if the lives of ordinary Libyans and the country’s many migrants and refugees are rebuilt. High-level discussions will fall short if they don’t also address the devastation inflicted on peoples’ lives and the very infrastructure on which they depend day to day.”
One displaced Libyan currently in Benghazi said, “The first thing we need from the international community is peace, safety and security. But even if we were able to return home, our houses are destroyed and the little assistance we have received I have had to use to pay for food and rent. It won’t be enough to rebuild my home.”
"The first thing we need from the international community is peace, safety and security."
A decade of protracted crisis has left one in five people in Libya – comprising 1.3 million Libyans, migrants and refugees – in need of humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs. The destruction of entire cities and towns has left 280,000 people living in damaged or substandard shelters that they cannot afford to rebuild themselves. A further 245,000 people still displaced by the conflict are unable to return to their homes, due to obstacles such as the presence of unexploded ordnance.
“The recurrent armed conflict has left a legacy of explosive remnants of war that will take years to clear to allow people to safely return to their homes and livelihoods. There have been at least 250 victims since May 2020 and many more likely undocumented. Ten years of instability has taken a substantial toll on the country’s population, yet international assistance to Libya is failing to keep pace with the humanitarian needs on the ground.” said Liam Kelly, the Danish Refugee Council’s Country Director in Libya.
Between January and May last year, Libya suffered the highest number of attacks on health care service providers in the world, further undermining the ability of its health system to provide for the population, and putting health workers’ and patients’ lives at further risk.
The situation has been compounded by chronic underfunding that has left many basic services now teetering on the brink of collapse. To date, donors have only committed to fund about a fifth of Libya’s Humanitarian Response Plan for 2021.
“More than one million people in Libya are estimated to have acute health needs. With only half of its health facilities still functioning, the Libyan health system is over-stretched and struggles to respond to the population’s basic health needs. Amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, strengthening health care services has to be more than an afterthought.” said Samy Guessabi, Country Representative in Libya for Action Against Hunger.
Some of the most vulnerable people in Libya include migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who face serious protection risks and human rights violations. Many have been subjected to systematic and arbitrary detention, exploitation, sexual violence, and a myriad of other abuses since leaving their countries of origin. Currently, more than five thousand migrants, refugees and asylum seekers languish in often abusive conditions in Libya’s detention centres. While this year is on course to see a record number of migrants and refugees intercepted at sea and forcibly returned to Libya, despite the UN declaring it cannot be considered a safe place for disembarkation.
The four aid groups warn that humanitarian needs in Libya will not simply disappear, even if momentum continues on the political front: “For the first time in many years, Libya has a real chance at achieving peace and stability,” said Tom Garofalo, the International Rescue Committee’s Country Director in Libya. “But, the foundations for Libya’s recovery are extremely fragile. International leaders must maximise this critical moment in Berlin to address the immediate humanitarian and longer-term needs of all who call Libya home. A failure to do so will undermine the very stability this Conference wants to usher in, leaving hundreds of thousands of people struggling to cope while they also face the potentially decades-long task of rebuilding their lives.”
Ending, the aid groups caution that ensuring the rights of displaced Libyans, as well as the country’s large migrant and refugee community – who are a critical part of the Libyan economy – must also take a more central role in Libya’s stabilization. Neglecting to address these issues will undoubtedly threaten the sustainability of any progress made in Berlin.