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More Libyans fleeing to Europe now than ever

The British Guardian reported that in 2020, as a result of the conflict, a depleted economy and the rapid spread of Covid-19, more Libyan natives are boarding unsteady boats to leave their home country for European shores than ever before.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) confirmed that almost 400 of the 582 Libyans that boarded boats headed to Europe in the last two years were in 2020, and the number is expected to continue rising if the country’s unstable conditions persist.

“The pandemic has made the economy suffer and has led to a reduction of oil and gas exports. There is also a difficulty for Libyans to cash out their pensions, and there’s a huge rise in unemployment among youth,” says Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR’s special envoy for the western and central Mediterranean.

“Border closures and limited movements because of COVID-19 lockdowns have affected people’s ability to earn,” he said. “They depended on border trade and smuggling things like cigarettes and fuel to get by.”

IOM reported that Libyan nationals totalled just 4.54% (196 individuals) of all arrivals to Italy in 2019, and 2.97% (386 individuals) in 2020.

Men composed a majority of Libyan arrivals to Italy via illegal migration, as 339 men arrived in Italy in the last two years, followed by 167 minors ( 37 of which were unaccompanied by family members) and 76 women.

Cochetel predicts a continued rise in Libyans leaving the country in 2021 unless the economy improves. “Libyans tend to stay in their country, even as displaced persons, or seek help from relatives in Tunisia or Egypt,” Cochetel says. “But the socioeconomic impact of the recent devaluation of the Libyan dinar must be monitored.”

The dangerous trip is more than 1,000km long and is carried out using unstable small boats crammed with people, lasting a long 18 hours in open waters, oftentimes these boast capsize, leaving bodies never to be found or washing ashore days later to be found by the coastguard.

IOM stated that while Libya has always been a transit country for migrants attempting to flee Africa and reach European shores, the 52% increase in just one year of Libyan natives fleeing their own country is cause for concern as it changes Libya’s position concerning the migration chain.

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