[The following is the latest from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) on the situation facing migrant workers and Libyan nationals fleeing Libya as refugees.]
Exiles from Libya Flee to Egypt: Double Tragedy for Sub-Saharan Africans
1. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and refugees flee Libya
The conflict that began in Libya on 17 February 2011 with a popular revolt against the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, following the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions in January, triggered a mass exodus of the civilian population into neighboring countries. The violence perpetrated by Gaddafi’s security forces against civilians, the conflict led by rebel groups controlling eastern Libya to overthrow the regime and NATO bombings have caused thousands of deaths and injuries and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country. In addition, as detailed in this report, violence specifically targeting immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa has forced thousands of migrant workers and refugees to flee Libya.
According to figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) dated 20 June 2011, more than 1.1 million people have fled Libya since late February, mostly over land borders with Tunisia and Egypt. Of those only about 19,000 exiles have tried to escape by sea, arriving in Lampedusa and Malta between 26 March and 14 June 2011, representing 1.7% of the exodus from Libya. Fantasies of “invasion” voiced in Europe have therefore no basis in reality, but have nonetheless been used to justify extraordinary surveillance measures at sea aiming to prevent the arrival of migrants and refugees into European territory. The multiplication of these barriers has had dramatic consequences – as of 14 June the UNHCR estimates that over 2,000 people have drowned while fleeing Libya right to seek refuge abroad.
The vast majority of those fleeing Libya between February and June were immigrants working in Libya: over 500,000 persons originating from Egypt, Tunisia, Asia (Bangladesh, Pakistan and China) and numerous Sub-Saharan African countries.
Libya, with its vast oil reserves and small population (approximately 6.4 million), resorted massively to foreign labor to run its economy: a figure of 1.5 million migrant workers before the start of the conflict is most commonly cited, but other estimates are around 2.5 million (including about 1 million Egyptians).
2. Severe violations of the rights of migrants and refugees in Libya before the conflict
Prior to the recent rebellion, migrants arriving in or transiting through Libya were regularly victims of serious human rights violations, including physical violence, arbitrary arrests and detention and forced returns. Migrants in an irregular situation were often arrested and detained in camps, in terrible conditions, sometimes for many years. others were expelled from Libya, in violation of international law and the principle of non-refoulement.
Libya has never ratified the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees of 1951 and does not have a system guaranteeing the right to asylum. Registration of asylum seekers, documentation activities and refugee status determination procedures were carried out by the UNHCR until June 2010, when the body was expelled by the Libyan government without explanation.
This coincided with the beginning of negotiations between Libya and the European Union on the conditions and amount of an assistance fund to be granted to Libya for the purpose of fighting irregular migration. This policy, under which the EU made Gaddafi a partner in fighting irregular migration into Europe and ignored the grave human rights violations committed against migrants in Libya, formed part of the EU’s general policy of externalising border controls.
3. Allowed across the Libyan border only to remain in transit
The geography of Libya, vast expanses of desert with populated areas located mainly along the Mediterranean, explains the fact that the exodus has been concentrated at the Tunisian and Egyptian borders (about 582,812 and 358,088 entries in Tunisia and in Egypt respectively since the conflict began as of 20 June 2011), while smaller numbers have fled across the southern borders with Chad and Niger.
The Egyptian and Tunisian governments have maintained their borders open to those fleeing Libya. But for most migrants admission into the country does not mean the right to stay. with the exception of those with Libyan nationality, who until now have been allowed to settle temporarily in Tunisia and Egypt, nationals of other countries are kept in border areas pending evacuation to their countries of origin or - for refugees who cannot return home - resettlement in host countries. the IOM and the UNHCR are responsible for coordinating humanitarian assistance in border areas and organizing departures.
4. FIDH’s fact-finding mission at the Egyptian-Libyan border
Alerted by information on the precarious situation of refugees and migrants stranded at the Egyptian/ Libyan border at Salloum and by reports of acts of violence specifically targeting immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa in Libya, FIDH sent a fact-finding mission to the border with two main objectives
- to document the situation of the exiles at the border;
- to collect direct testimony from exiles on their experiences in Libya since the outset of the conflict.
Following a mission organized by CIMADE at the Tunisian-Libyan border in early April, the FIDH mission took place from 8-14 May 2011, including three days at the Salloum border. The mission delegation was composed of Geneviève Jacques, member of FIDH’s International Board and former Secretary General of CIMADE, who also participated in the mission to Tunisia, Mohamed Badawi, a Sudanese lawyer from Darfur and deputy director of the Sudanese organization, African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, and Christine Tadros, Refugee Status Determination Team Leader at the refugee aid organization, Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance (AMERA), based in Cairo. The team was accompanied by a freelance journalist, Gael Grilhot.
In Cairo, the mission delegation met with officials from the IOM (Enrico Ponziani and Reham Hussein) and UNHCR (Mohamed Al Dayri and Mark Fawe) who provided information on the work done by the organizations since the outbreak of the Libyan crisis. The mission also met with Jason Bellanger, representative in Egypt of the Catholic Relief Service, one of the NGOs providing humanitarian aid at the border until the end of April and with Nancy Baron, Director of the Psycho-Social Training Institute in Cairo and professor at the American University Center for Migration and Refugees Studies in Cairo, who had worked for several weeks to provide social support to exiles at the Salloum border. A meeting with the director of a human rights organization in Egypt, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Hossam Bahgat, addressed the wider challenges facing Egypt during this period of political transition.
At the Salloum border post, the mission met with UNHCR representative, Jean Paul Cavalieri and the Team Leader for Refugee Status Determination procedures, Nazneen Farooqi. The mission also met with several IOM representatives.
The delegation encountered no difficulties exchanging with male migrants at the Salloum Land Port, addressed spontaneously and randomly on the site. It was more difficult to exchange with the few women migrants present in Salloum. they were gathered separately in a customs hangar and on two occasions male migrants prevented the delegation from talking to the women, claiming that they “would speak only to United Nations personnel.” In total, the delegation conducted more than 50 individual interviews and 4 group interviews at the Salloum Land Port, with migrants originating from 12 different countries. The delegation also met with several migrants of Palestinian origin in a no man’s land between the Egyptian and Libyan border controls.
On 8 May, the total population on the site was 1,401 individuals, of which 609 had been registered by the UNHCR as asylum seekers and refugees.
[Click here to read the full International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) report.]
 The National Indicative Programme for Libya 2011-2013 negotiated between the EU and Libya, includes the fight against illegal migration as one of its three priorities. The budget proposed by the EU for the programme was 60 million euros.
 See further FIDH and UFTDU press statement (in French), Libye/UE : La FIDH et l’UFTDU condamnent les propos racistes du Colonel Khadafi, 30 septembre 2010, http://www.fidh.org/Libye-UE-La-FIDH-et-l-UFTDU-condamnent-les-propos
 See IOM situation reports http://www.iom.int/jahia/Jahia/lang/fr/pid/1.
 See press release and CIMADE report at www.lacimade.org.