What's happening

  • The IRC is extremely concerned about the safety of migrants and refugees being returned to Libya in large numbers by the Libyan Coast Guard after attempting a sea crossing to Europe.
  • IRC teams provided medical attention, water, blankets and other emergency assistance to 700 people who were brought back to shore in the first days of May.
  • Most were immediately sent to overcrowded and unhygienic detention centers in Libya, where they are now at grave risk of ill-treatment, exploitation and violence.
  • The IRC calls on world leaders to prevent the needless loss of yet more lives in the Mediterranean Sea and work with Libyan authorities to ensure all detained migrants and asylum seekers are released.
Read our statement

Country facts

  • Population: 6.9 million
  • People in need of humanitarian assistance: 800,000, projected to rise to 1.5 million during 2022
  • Humanitarian Development Index rank: 105

IRC response

  • Started work: 2016

Crisis briefing

Libya is facing economic collapse, political instability, and ongoing conflict between violent militias—and it remains Africa’s main departure point to Europe for migrants seeking safety and opportunity. The International Rescue Committee provides vital healthcare and protection to vulnerable people caught in an increasingly unstable country.

What caused the current crisis in Libya?

Libya is in turmoil. Following the 2011 revolution, which ended the 42-year regime of Muammar Gaddafi, civil war erupted in 2014. The oil-rich North African nation has since been engulfed in economic chaos, general lawlessness, with violent militias vying for power—including ISIS. Despite international pressure, political reconciliation between rival governments in the east and west remains a distant prospect.

The civilian population is caught in the middle. Basic public services—health care, education, electricity, banking—are degraded or absent, and the threat of violence is constant.

Over 700,000 migrants are currently in Libya. While some do have legal status and have travelled to Libya to work there, others are undocumented and live in the shadows. Many continue to risk their lives with smugglers to try get to Europe.  More often than not, they are pulled back by Libyan coast guards to Libya where they are arrested and detained.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Libya?

Violence and economic decline in Libya have displaced more than 500,000 people and disrupted all facets of life: health care, public utilities, jobs, education, financial services, social safety nets. Restoring primary healthcare services is the most pressing need, as more than 1 million people lack access. Many health facilities across the country are either partially or completely non-functional due to critical shortages of healthcare workers, skilled specialists, medicines and medical supplies. 

Migrants and refugees in Libya are also vulnerable. They are often forced to live in the shadows with no access to the services they need and are at risk of exploitation.

How does the IRC help in Libya?

Since August 2016, the IRC has provided emergency and reproductive health services in western Libya. The IRC is one of the few international organisations with a direct presence in Libya with three office in Tripoli, Misrata and Sirte.

As Libya continues to endure political instability and widespread violence, the IRC is focused on:

  • providing critical health-care in hard to reach places in western Libya; 
  • providing life-saving medicines to primary health clinics;
  • when possible, providing a referral pathway for patients in urgent need;
  • renovating primary health clinics which have been damaged during the civil war;
  • deploying experienced social workers to provide case management and psychosocial support in communities impacted by the conflict. 


What still needs to be done?

The IRC seeks to expand its health and protection programmes in Libya, providing support to vulnerable Libyans, refugees and migrants as funding permits. To this end, the IRC plans to support additional primary healthcare facilities, establish its own community development centre and support people being held in detention centres. There is no shortage of needs in Libya, for both Libyans and migrants, but low commitments from donor countries compared to other humanitarian crises and an especially restrictive security environment pose challenges to scaling up our response.