Beyond Militias and Tribes: The Facilitation of Migration in Libya

37 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2020

Date Written: February 2020


Empirical research and data specific to the dynamics of the facilitation of migration and its actors in Libya are scant at best. Not only the country remains off-limits to most researchers given its security conditions: most research is based on the observations of a small number of people who have been allowed to carry out work in the country in the post-Ghaddafi era, and not on the interests and concerns of those who call Libya home. Most of this research has also failed to contextualise the facilitation of migration as part of the long standing, complex and community-based set of mobility strategies historically in place across North Africa, the Sahel and beyond.

This case study outlines the dynamics of the practice known to states as migrant smuggling in Libya in the aftermath of the Ghaddafi regime. It draws from interviews carried out with law enforcement, border officials, ordinary citizens, migrants and people involved in the facilitation of their journeys into Europe in Italy, Tunisia and the border this country shares with Libya.

Contributing to a small if growing body of scholarship, the case study argues that across Africa, the labelling of mobility facilitation strategies as migrant smuggling and their criminalisation responds to EU-dictated migration enforcement and control measures. Said measures have played a role in the levels and kinds of risks people face on the migration pathway. These include not merely violent smugglers configured into tribes and militias, as the security discourse often suggests.

There is an urgent need to understand the facilitation of migration as an element of economic and social stability amid widespread marginalisation (one not only experienced by migrants, but also by those behind their journeys). Participation in the facilitation of migration has without exception proven to be an income generating strategy for vastly disenfranchised and impoverished communities and their members (including women and young people), while simultaneously providing the opportunities migrants need to continue or embark in their journeys.

Granted, often unequal and abusive interactions emerge among these actors, putting human lives at risk. However they are derived from migration enforcement and control practices. Violence and abuse are not inherent traits to migration facilitators nor to migrants, who often perform migration facilitation tasks to advance their own journeys. Violence and precarity emerge in a context of increased surveillance and control. As a growing number of scholars argue, to refer to people’s mobility strategies along the lines of smuggling, trafficking or “modern day slavery” as it has occurred in the case of Libya is inaccurate and simplistic, for neither term reflects the complexities of people’s experiences, and obscures the vast continuum of strategies migrants and those behind their journeys employ in their attempts to achieve multiple kinds of mobility.

Keywords: Migrant smuggling, Human Trafficking, Libya, Women, Migrant Children

Suggested Citation

Sanchez, Gabriella, Beyond Militias and Tribes: The Facilitation of Migration in Libya (February 2020). Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper No. RSCAS 2020/09, Available at SSRN: or

Gabriella Sanchez (Contact Author)

University of Texas, El Paso ( email )

500 W University Ave
El Paso, TX 79902
United States

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