By Melissa Phillips, Senior Programme Officer, and Susanna Zanfrini, Protection Project Manager, Danish Refugee Council.
Working with asylum seekers and refugees in almost any location in the world involves juggling vulnerability with service availability, battling bureaucracy and bearing witness to remarkable people. Few situations we’ve worked in are as challenging as that of Libya. On the surface it is similar to many other countries in the region that have not signed the Refugee Convention, have no domestic asylum (or migration) legislation and offer no national refugee status determination (RSD) process. The national government is in transition and has no formal MoU with UNHCR.
Beyond these ‘ordinary’ challenges, Libya has a very ambivalent relationship with the asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in its territory who by some estimates number more than a million. They are both needed and undesired. Their role and number is misunderstood and the unique situation of each group is indistinguishable from the other in a discourse that focuses entirely on ‘migrants’. This discourse is perpetuated outside the country by the international media, donors and European governments who, with very few exceptions, misrepresent the complex mixed migration context in Libya as a simplistic scenario of ‘everyone’ wanting to come to Europe.