African migrants at a naval base in Tripoli, Libya | Photo: EPA/STR
African migrants at a naval base in Tripoli, Libya | Photo: EPA/STR

Representatives from the international community met the Libyan warring parties in Berlin on Sunday, January 19. The summit was intended to broker a ceasefire and lasting peace for the country. But what was agreed and what could that mean for the more than 40,000 migrants in Libya?

Leaders and lawmakers arrived in Berlin from France, Italy, Britain, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, China and the US. Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister from Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the opposition Libyan National Army (LNA) were also present, although they didn’t directly meet each other. Representatives from the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) the African Union (AU) and the Arab League (AL) took part too.

The summit is being applauded as a first step in a political process to finding a lasting solution to the conflict in Libya. The details of what will materialize in Libya still need to be built upon. 16 states and organizations signed a final communique.

Main points on foreign intervention, human rights

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that foreign powers would uphold a UN arms embargo and stop supplying weapons to both sides in the Libyan conflict.
  • The signatories to the final statement "call on all parties concerned to redouble their efforts for a sustained suspension of hostilities, de-escalation and a permanent ceasefire."
  • The signatories "urge all parties in Libya to fully respect international humanitarian law and human rights law." 
  • They call for an "end to the practice of arbitrary detention" and urge the Libyan authorities to "gradually close the detention centers for migrants and asylum seekers."
  • In the UN Secretary General’s press statement following the conference, Antonio Guterres stated that all powers had agreed that there "could be no military solution to the situation."

The situation on the ground

  • Since Libya has no stable government and two warring parties, the situation on the ground is unstable and has worsened since April 2019 when Khalifa Haftar launched his latest offensive.
  • Streets are controlled by armed groups. 
  • France, Italy and the UK all have oil interests in the country. Despite being one of the proponents of the ceasefire, Turkey has already sent a small number of soldiers to Tripoli to support Fayez al-Sarraj’s GNA government and offer advice and training. It is reported that Russian mercenaries are also fighting in the country.
  • According to the UN, there are over 40,000 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Libya who are stuck because of the fighting. Many wanted only to transition through Libya on their way to Europe. Others, including Libyan citizens, have decided to leave because of the instability of the situation.
  • According to the news agency Reuters more than 150,000 people have been displaced by fighting in the capital, Tripoli since April 2019.

  • According to the UN’s weekly external update released on January 17, there are currently 343,180 displaced Libyans and 46,395 registered refugees and asylum seekers in the country.
  • There are still more than 900 individuals in the Tripoli Gathering and Departure facility (GDF).
  • On January 16, the UN reported that "947 refugees and migrants were registered as rescued/intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and disembarked in Libya" in the first two weeks of 2020
  • There are currently "more than 3,000 refugees and migrants being held in detention centers in Libya." 2,039 of these people are "of concern" to the UNHCR. The UNHCR continues to carry out inspection and registration visits within detention centers in order to find third party solutions for the most vulnerable people they find.
  • Following one of these visits, the UNHCR tweeted that they "welcomed the release of 19 people from detention in Libya" and said that they were providing those released with "core relief items and cash" at a Community Day Center (CDC) in Tripoli.

What could the accord mean for migrants?
  • In Antonio Guterres statement at the Berlin summit he reiterated that all parties in Libya should "fully respect international humanitarian and human rights law, and protect civilians and civilian infrastructure."
  • The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi tweeted on January 18 that "progress towards peace at the Libya summit in Berlin will also prevent further forced displacement of Libyans and allow for better support to stranded refugees and migrants."
  • "Failure will make humanitarian problems in Libya even more dramatic and intractable," Grandi added. The UN says that they will require an estimated $85.1 million funding for Libya in 2020. Currently they say they only have 11% of that sum.
  • Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas took part in a discussion on German broadcaster ARD on January 19 in which he expressed the dilemma facing European governments when declaring the conditions migrants are facing in Libyan camps "inhumane" while essentially supporting a policy which sends migrants back there. 
  • As a result, Maas who is attending a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday, January 20, announced that the EU should think about reviving the Operation Sophia mission.
  • Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said he agreed with him. The German press agency dpa quoted him as saying "It collapsed at the time under Matteo Salvini. Salvini is gone. We must rebuild Sophia."
  • Previously Operation Sophia conducted naval patrols in the Mediterranean but also ended up rescuing migrants in distress at sea. Although the operation still exists, it largely consists of training the Libyan Coast Guard to do that job. It is not clear what the mission’s parameters might be if it were to be restored in full. Some have said it should be there to prevent smuggling and others that it should enforce the arms embargo on Libya.
  • Final decisions are not expected until the next meeting in February


  • A continuation of the fragile truce brokered by Russia and Turkey has been announced but while diplomatic efforts were underway in Berlin, Khalifa Haftar’s LNA forces blockaded oilfields in Libya which threaten to "cripple the country’s crude production" according to Reuters. Closures are estimated to cut the production to 72,000 barrels a day, according to an announcement from Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC). Economic problems could potentially worsen the situation for everyone on the ground in Libya.
  • Reuters reported that there had been a "lull in air strikes and less fighting over the past 10 days," but "heavy exchanges of artillery fire could be heard from some front lines south of Tripoli late on Sunday."
  • It is hoped that if the parties can agree to a permanent ceasefire then a political process can begin.
  • Chancellor Merkel has announced that a special committee "made up of five military officials from each side will monitor the truce." The EU and the Italian government have pledged to play a leading role in any monitoring mission.
  • Since the bombing campaign took out former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 western countries have largely stayed out of the conflict, until now. That has left Russia, Turkey and the Arab states to take a greater role in the situation.


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