• theleftberlin

The Libyan trap at the time of the Coronavirus

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

by Michaelangelo Severgnini

The Coronavirus pandemic is sweeping the planet, bringing insecurity, grief and international instability starting from the markets.

This global event will mark a period of great acceleration of social and economic movements and consequently it will be probably so also in theatres of conflict.

What is happening meanwhile in Libya and, in particular, to migrants stranded there?

People have begun to take the first measures against the spread of the virus, as the first cases have been reported in the country. In the evening and night, clubs and shops are closed.

The conflict actually continues, albeit at a low intensity. The sending of weapons by Erdogan in support of the militias continues as well as the blockade of oil production put in place by the Eastern tribes in order to take the primary source of income away from those same militias that keep Tripolitania hostage with the recognition of the United Nations and the support of Europe.


People are starting to stay at home, but that is not possible for everyone, especially for those who are under the bombs.

The past months had marked a frantic activity both by the UNCHR in evacuating asylum seekers to Niger, and by IOM for the voluntary repatriation by air of migrants to Libya. Same for the activity of private ships at sea and the consequent departure of dozens of deflated dinghies (almost 5,000 arrivals in Italy from Libya from December 2019 until the outbreak of the epidemic).

All this has stopped.

The UNCHR and IOM have stopped their activities in Libya and consequently also the evacuation and repatriation programs have stopped.

We spoke on the phone a couple of weeks ago with a South Sudanese guy who was about to receive a phone call from UNCHR informing him about the flight from Tripoli to Niger (listen to the interview here). In the meantime, the UNHCR has suspended the evacuation program and therefore he, as well as tens of thousands of other refugees in Libya (almost 60,000), must now resign to staying in Libya until the epidemic has passed. After 3 years in Libya, enslaved, tortured for extortion, survived so far a year of war, this is a test too hard to accept.

Similar is the fate of those who were just waiting for a repatriation flight and now find themselves even more stuck in Libya, when all they wanted to do was go home and save themselves (50,000 people voluntarily repatriated by IOM in the last years).


The previous month, again on "Voci dalla Libia", a monthly appointment on Radio Radicale, we interviewed a Somali boy who is now in Medenine, in southern Tunisia. He told us about the hundreds of girls and boys who had returned to Libya from Tunisia in the last few months to reach the first city on the coast, Zuwara, and from there board the rubber boats (listen to the interview here). The traffickers had made it known that they were making good prices, 7-800 euros against the usual 1,200-1500 euros.

So in the last few months, hundreds of young people had returned to Libya from Tunisia, a bit to disprove the NGO slogan "they're running away from the war in Libya". No, in this case, they come back to the war in Libya to board rubber dinghies, since it is precisely the condition of war that gives the traffickers the chance to earn on the lives of these kids. All of them are now trapped in Libya again.

But along with those who returned to Libya from Tunisia, thousands more girls and boys were getting ready to take a rubber boat. The militias probably needed money, the NGOs had responded by deploying the entire fleet at sea and new ships were about to be put in the water.

This was the scenario that was shaping up.

Right now everything is at a standstill. The ships of the NGOs are in the ports, even the stones in Libya know it, and no one is leaving anymore.


In recent weeks, although we have not published any material, we have kept in touch with many people in Libya on a daily basis.

We have decided to publish some "screenshots" of our conversations.

Our embarrassment is evident in the face of the prayers, solidarity, thoughts of encouragement and affection of so many people in Libya with whom we have been in contact for months (with someone for almost 2 years).

Our embarrassment is motivated by the fact that even in a dramatic situation for Europe and in particular for our country, Italy, we continue to consider ourselves privileged. This causes us to do so little for those who deserve a caress of good luck. As the poet Fabrizio De Andrè used to say, these are people for whom "it is only right that luck should help them".

Michelangelo Severgnini is an independent filmmaker and musician from Italy. His film EXODUS - escape from Libya can be viewed from the following links

Reproduced with permission

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