Libya Puts Pressure on African Migration

Elizabeth Ferris
Elizabeth Ferris
Elizabeth Ferris Former Brookings Expert, Research Professor, Institute for the Study of International Migration - Georgetown University

September 5, 2011

Editor’s Note: In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Elizabeth Ferris discusses the effect of the Arab spring on massive migration across North Africa’s borders.

STEVE INSKEEP, NPR: Now, early in Libya’s war, people were sometimes leaving the country at the rate of thousands per hour. Foreign workers were mainly fleeing the country. Now that rebels control Tripoli, a different kind of refugee is on the move, including some of Moammar Gadhafi’s relatives, who slipped across the border into Algeria.

Elizabeth Ferris of the Brookings Institution is tracking Libya’s migrations.

ELIZABETH FERRIS: Whenever there’s a turmoil such as this and a change in government and regime, people associated with that regime try to get out.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

FERRIS: And there are rich people who have resources and homes elsewhere and bank accounts they can tap into. Poorer people tend to be displaced closer to home. So you’ll have displacement inside Libya. You’ll have people going to both borders, the Tunisian and the Egyptian, trying to find safety.

INSKEEP: I’m thinking of two categories of people. One would be extreme Gadhafi loyalists or Gadhafi troops who perhaps people would not really be concerned about very much. But then there’s another category of sub-Saharan Africans who migrated into Libya and there’s concern now that they could be targeted because it would be assumed that they were mercenaries for Gadhafi whether they were or not.

FERRIS: Right. You know, Libya has a population of about six and a half million. It has two and a half million foreign workers. I mean, they’re dispersed throughout society. They’re mercenaries, but they also run shops and run public services and so on. And we’ve already have seen mass movements of those people outside the country.

And there’s another category people who are likely to leave, and that’s people who get caught up in the violence, who have experienced their house being destroyed or a child being killed, who think I’ve had it, I want to get out.

Listen to the full interview or download the transcript at