By Libya Herald staff.
Cairo, 26 August 2014:
Since armed clashes began in Libya’s capital in mid-July, foreign governments have been scrambling to evacuate . . .[restrict]their citizens from the country. Thousands of migrant workers, however, have chosen to stay in Libya, either rejecting their governments’ offers of assistance or simply not contacting their embassies altogether.
Libya plays host to a large number of migrant workers from African nations and further afield from countries such as India, Philippines, China and Pakistan. Some of the largest numbers are from Libya’s neighbouring countries: Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Mali and Niger.
In the past month over 6,000 Egyptians a day have been fleeing Libya, crossing into Egypt at the Salloum border crossing or across the Tunisian frontier. Though that translates into more than 100,000 Egyptians who have left Libya, that number is only a small percentage of the estimated almost two million Egyptians working in the country. Many Egyptians are still clamouring to return to Libya even as Egypt finishes up the evacuations it was carrying out from Ras Jedir on the Tunisian border.
Sudanese workers also seem to be staying. The Sudanese population in Libya is put at hundreds of thousands. However, the International Office for Migration (IOM) has only seen about 50 cross the Salloum border over the past month. Reports of other Sudanese evacuations through the airports or Kufra indicate that they are not leaving in large numbers.
Another case in point, that of the Filipinos, demonstrates that it is not just Africans who are choosing to stay. Thousands of Filipinos, many who are vital to the continued functioning of Libya’s health care system, have refused their government’s offer of evacuation assistance.
When asked why migrant workers would choose to stay in Libya in the midst of such dangerous circumstances, an official at IOM’s Cairo Headquarters said that most workers still think the situation is going to improve. Many are owed back pay by their employers and afraid they will never see that money if they leave. Moreover, most do not have jobs to return to in their home country.
The IOM headquarters in Cairo is functioning as a hub for coordinating both information sharing and efforts to assist evacuations for migrant workers in Libya, holding regular meetings with embassy representatives in Cairo.
Though most embassies have shuttered in Libya, they are still receiving updates from their nationals working in the county. Groups such as the Filipinos, Indians, Pakistanis and others generally form tight-knit communities, keeping in close contact with their embassies and with representatives who can communicate for the group.
IOM has assisted in the evacuation of some of these groups, it says, citing the example of a small group of Sri Lankans whom it helped evacuate to Tunisia. IOM was also involved in coordinating the evacuation and repatriation of around 200 Nepalese last week.
It has recently been asked to help evacuate 1,500 Pakistanis. Some of these are currently being held in Libya’s overcrowded detention centres, detained because of visa and work permit infractions.
According to the IOM official, the Libyans are more than happy to release these detainees in order for them to be evacuated since funds to feed and house detainees are in short supply. In the meantime, IOM is providing non-food relief such as blankets to migrants held in these detention centres.
Though large numbers of migrant workers of many different nationalities are choosing to stay put, what will happen in coming months remains to be seen. With the security situation in Libya on a continuing downslide, it is likely more will be requesting evacuation assistance from their governments in the days to come. [/restrict]