Expert Voice

Migrants in Crisis - They came to work and left to survive

09 June 2016

While the Libyan conflict is just a mere example of the many crises affecting the world, it sheds the light on the suffering and difficulties thousands of migrants live when caught in countries in crisis.

By Badr Mouhcine

"Armed robbers attacked a camp of Bangladesh nationals in a Libyan city leaving 12 Bangladeshis injured with bullets - Sep 2015".

"Two Bangladeshi workers were killed and another two injured in Al-Kufrah city when they were caught up in a firefight between two rival militia groups - July 2015".

"Two Bangladeshi workers kidnapped by Terrorist group ISIS from the al-Ghani oil field along with seven other foreigners - March 2015".

"180 Bangladeshi construction workers in Najaf have been stranded for two months after their employer forbade them to leave – May 2014".

These are news headlines that never reach the masses. Robbed, kidnapped, exploited or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time can cost your life. Thousands of migrant workers caught in the turmoil of the Libyan instability since the start of the crisis in 2011 have experienced such situations. While the Libyan conflict is just a mere example of the many crises affecting the world, it sheds the light on the suffering and difficulties thousands of migrants live when caught in countries in crisis.From armed conflicts to natural disasters, the last decade has witnessed grave crises and whereas migrants are vulnerable in times of peace they are even more vulnerable in times of crisis.

Caught in a country in crisis

Mirza, a Bangladeshi man in his thirties left his wife, three kids and his mother in the outskirts of Dhaka five years ago and came to Libya for work, like 63.000 of his compatriots. He had to borrow money to cover all administrative and travel costs as well as subsistence costs in Libya before receiving his first salary. Once in Libya, life was tough but he was glad to have a job on a construction site and occasionally in a cleaning company in Misrata, which allowed him to send more money to his family back home.

In early 2011, civil war broke out in Libya and confrontations between the insurgents and pro-Gaddafi forces became violent. Mirza was caught amidst the conflict with no assistance or support from his employer or the Bangladeshi embassy in Libya due to the intensification of the conflict and the lack of resources. Mirza was among the lucky ones who managed to return home, yet, his journey was confronted with intimidation, fear, loss and despair. Arriving at Ras Jdir border, he was transferred by the Tunisian civil protection to Choucha Refugee Camp - a manifestation of a human tragedy spreading over kilometers, marked by countless stories of desperation and struggles of people from various nationalities. He found relief in the camp but most of all with people, organisations and officials who did their best to ease the burden and improve the conditions of the people caught in this conflict.

Better assistance to vulnerable migrants

The crisis in Libya and Mirza’s case highlight the vulnerability of migrants caught in crises. Not only are they at peril during critical security threats, but they receive little to no support from employers or governments. And to add to this, the moral weight of sending remittances and reimbursing loans taken for moving implies that many migrants decide to stay in crisis affected zones with the hope of a better future, even if it means putting their lives at risk.

Mirza’s situation is not an isolated case; thousands of migrants find themselves caught in difficult ordeals during armed conflicts or natural disasters. International workers, irregular migrants, unaccompanied and separated children or urban refugees are defenseless when a crisis hits their country of destination and they are more exposed to the effects of such a crisis.

Imperative and concrete political measures to stabilise the situation in countries sliding into chaos and armed conflict; and tackling the devastating effects of natural disasters remain the best solution to guarantee the wellbeing of migrants caught in crises. Though as these are unlikely to be reached in the immediate future, efforts from the international community must be unified to provide assistance to migrants caught in crises and address their needs throughout all phases of the crisis from prevention/preparedness to emergency assistance and post-crisis follow-up.

Becoming aware of the urgency to address this issue, voices from the international community have risen and the European Union (EU) has been amongst the first to tackle the question to date, as well as the United Nations High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development. With this in mind, and immediately after the launch of the Migrants in Countries in Crisis (MICIC) Initiative, the EU mobilised resources to fully finance a comprehensive four year support project "Migrants in Countries in Crisis: Supporting an Evidence-based Approach for Effective and Cooperative State Action" implemented by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD). The project aims to reinforce the capacities of countries and stakeholders to assist and provide protection to migrants in countries in crises and address their needs and the long-term implications of such situations.


Badr Mouhcine is the Junior Project Officer of the Migrants in Countries of Crisis Initiative at ICMPD.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of ICMPD.

Photo: Rob O'Brien on Flickr