Despite a seven-fold decrease in overall refugee and migrant sea arrivals from Libya to Italy between 2017 and 2018, the proportion of East African refugees and migrants among overall arrivals in Italy increased in 2018. In 2018, 14% and 7% of all sea arrivals in Italy were of Eritrean or Sudanese nationality, compared to only 5% each in 2017.2 Also, while in 2017 Eritreans did not figure among the top five sea arrivals to Italy, in 2018 Eritreans were the first nationality arriving in Italy from Libya. 3 Research shows that refugees and migrants from East Africa have distinct migratory profiles in Libya, as they mostly come to the country with the intention to transit further towards Europe, moving in closed smuggling networks and facing particularly severe protection risks en route. 4 At the same time, they are also among those refugees and migrants in Libya who can register as populations of concern with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), despite Libya not being a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.Still, little is known about the 115,000 individuals originating from East African countries, namely Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan (including Darfur and South Sudan) and Eritrea, in Libya in 2018 (17% of the total refugee and migrant population in Libya). 6 This is mostly associated to their transitory profiles, which make this population group challenging to access in Libya, for researchers and humanitarian actors alike.
This report aimed at investigating the (1) migration trajectories, (2) smuggling networks and (3) protection risks faced by refugees and migrants originating from East Africa while crossing Libya. Based on longitudinal analysis of comparable data collected in late 2016,7 the assessment also aimed at exploring (4) key changes in the mixed migration dynamics of East African refugees and migrants in Libya between late 2016 and 2018, coinciding with several migration measures implemented in Libya and the Sahel region since early 2017. Findings draw on qualitative primary data collected through 30 in-person, semi-structured, in-depth interviews with refugees and migrants originating from East Africa conducted in Italy and 12 key informant interviews conducted in Libya, Tunisia and Italy between 12 December 2018 and 12 January 2019.
The assessment finds that the dynamics which make East African refugees and migrants a vulnerable and hard to reach population in Libya have exacerbated over the course of 2018. It finds that, with the crackdown on smuggling in parts of the country, East African refugees and migrants are faced with an overreliance on few highly organised smuggling rings, leading to an ever-increasing blurring of the lines between smuggling and trafficking of East African refugees and migrants in the country. 8 Due to limited legal ways out of Libya, East African refugees and migrants have few alternatives to accessing exploitative smuggling networks to reach safety.