Who has the 'responsibility to protect' Libyan migrants?

Who has the 'responsibility to protect' Libyan migrants?
Comment: International bodies have played their role in Libya's crisis, and migrants escaping the chaos there cannot just be the responsibility of Libya and Europe, says Alexandra Lort Phillips.
3 min read
African migrants crossing the Saharah for Libya [Getty]

As another boat of migrants overturns in horror scenes unfit for the 21st century several questions need to be answered. Why are so many risking their lives to escape sub-Saharan Africa? Who must take responsibility for the safety and security of people in the region to prevent such awful human tragedies unfolding? 


While the boats’ passengers come from Sudan, Eritrea, Chad, Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone it is more often than not from Libya that people are smuggled.  Libya is still burning four years on from the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, and civilians now find themselves desperate enough to jump onto unsafe vessels bound for Europe not only because of threats to their lives at home but also because they hope for a better future and people smugglers working unchecked through Libya are exploiting them.


There is no central government in Libya, rival governments residing in the east and west of the country continue to fight each other and other armed groups thrive in the power vacuum left after the collapse of the Gaddafi regime. These armed antagonists seem unable to protect citizens let alone those arriving in large numbers from elsewhere.


A senior British Libyan surgeon who returned yesterday from Misurata after one of his monthly trips as a medical volunteer said his own apartment in Tripoli has been burned out.  In the hospital where he works no repairs have been carried out in four years. He can find himself stuck on the wrong side of a broken door where such minor maintenance issues become a major obstacle to delivery of medical services.  Facilities in all aspects of public administration across the country are drastically affected by similar problems as well as problems of supplies and qualified personnel.


Although Libya Body Count, an NGO which is voluntarily keeping a record of Libyan deaths from violent conflict since January 2014, has recorded a decline in numbers being killed in the country since its peak in August 2014, the amount each month this year is greater than it was at the same time last year.  The same organisation has now begun to record migrant deaths and these are increasing.


Their fate is in part a consequence of the violent chaos that followed the uprising and the failure of the rival governments to establish peace. Each day of this failure has offered more opportunities to smaller and more extreme agendas, exemplified by recent propaganda released by a supporter of the so-called Islamic State group who claims to be living in Libya threatening to exploit the boat migrants in the Mediterranean. 


Four years ago, the Security Council legitimised foreign intervention in Libya under resolution 1973 and NATO and regional forces implemented military action that has been criticised for overstepping its mandate.  The interventions were supposed to reflect the principles of the ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians yet more civilians have died since its implementation.   


The situation of the migrants is not simply one for Libya or for Europe to come to terms with. International bodies and forces have played their part in this crisis.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.