News / Africa

Thousands of Migrant Workers Stranded in Conflict-Ridden Libya

Migrant workers from Africa jump off a truck after arriving in Misrata port during an evacuation operation organized by IOM (International Organization for Migration), April 23, 2011
Migrant workers from Africa jump off a truck after arriving in Misrata port during an evacuation operation organized by IOM (International Organization for Migration), April 23, 2011

The International Organization for Migration expresses great concern about the plight of thousands of migrant workers stranded in conflict-ridden Libya. IOM says the migrants have been abandoned by their employers and have few means of survival.  

According to the IOM, migrants in Libya had a tough life even before the conflict broke out.  It says they faced discrimination and tended to be exploited by their employers.

Since the crisis hit, IOM says the tens of thousands of migrants stranded in Libya are more vulnerable to abuse than ever before.  It says many African migrant workers have been targeted because they were suspected of being mercenaries hired by leader Moammar Gadhafi.  It says many have been killed and hundreds have gone into hiding.

IOM spokeswoman, Jemini Pandya, says her organization is particularly concerned about the plight of a large community of mostly African and Filipino migrant workers sheltering in two sites in the capital, Tripoli.

“Some of the migrants have been without jobs since the beginning of the crisis… because their employers have left the country," said Pandya. "Feeling that they had nothing to return to, they stay on in Libya in the vain hope that they may receive back pay from their employers or find another job.  Others have been left to take care of their employers’ properties.  But, they have not been paid since February.  And, the impact of the banking - the fact that the banking system does not also work means there is no way of getting money to employees.”  

Pandya says the majority of migrant workers in Libya are from sub-Saharan African countries including Ghana, Togo, Sudan, Nigeria, and Cameroon.  She says most are unskilled and undocumented workers.  She says their illegal status makes them particularly vulnerable to being caught and abused.

“Given their situation, the fact that they are without a proper home - no food and very dependent on whatever food and shelter they can actually get from the goodwill of either people in the community, both Libyans and non-Libyans.  And, this despite the fact that actually some food prices have increased by up to three to four times since the start of the crisis,” said Pandya.  

Since late February, the Geneva-based migration agency has helped return nearly 144,000 migrants to their homes in Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Chad and Niger.  

As the crisis drags on, IOM reports the numbers of people fleeing across Libya borders continue to mount steadily.  It says nearly one million people so far have crossed into six neighboring countries or arrived in Italy and Malta after making a perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

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