On September 4, 2022, the Security Directorate of Tobruk, a city on Libya’s eastern Mediterranean coast, announced that it had detained 287 undocumented Egyptian migrants who had illegally crossed the Egyptian-Libyan border. The migrants, many of them children as young as 12 years old, had been locked in a warehouse in the suburbs of Tobruk by migrant smugglers who were in the process of smuggling them across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy.
The testimonies of those found in the warehouse indicated that some of them had paid the smugglers as much as 170,000 Egyptian pounds (about US$8,800) to smuggle them by boat to Europe. Many of the minors told Libyan authorities that the smugglers had subjected them to verbal and physical violence, including insults, humiliation, beatings, and electric shock torture. Additionally, they complained about receiving only small amounts of innutritious food and little water, and of having their mobile phones, money, and belongings confiscated.
During the past decade, Libya has been a center for illegal migration to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea, with Libyan political unrest allowing for the growth of a multimillion dollar smuggling industry.
Libyan Laws Against Smuggling Migrants
Libya has several laws aimed at curtailing migrant smuggling.
With regard to illegal migrants, article 6 of Law No. 19 of 2010 on Combatting Illegal Immigration penalizes foreign illegal immigrants by detention with hard labor (the law does not state the term) or by a fine of up to 1,000 Libyan dinars (about US$202), followed by deportation. Additionally, article 1 of Law No. 2 of 2004, amending article 19 of Law No. 6 of 1987 on the entry and residence of foreigners, punishes any person entering or residing in Libya illegally by imprisonment (the law does not state the term) or a fine of up to 2,000 Libyan dinars, or both.
With regard to migrant smugglers, article 2 of Law No. 2 of 2004, adding article 19 bis to Law No. 6 of 1987, imposes a prison sentence of at least one year and a fine of 1,000 Libyan dinars on anyone caught smuggling migrants in any manner, forging travel documents or fake identities for them, or directing others to engage in the smuggling of persons.
Libyan Law No. 19 of 2010 also criminalizes the smuggling of migrants. The law imposes a minimum fine of 1,000 Libyan dinars on anyone caught employing illegal immigrants. (Law No. 19 of 2010, art. 3.) It also imposes a fine of 10,000 Libyan dinars and a prison sentence of no less than five years on anyone caught smuggling as part of an organized group, with the punishment doubled if the person is an official border patrol guard. (Art. 4.) Additionally, if the act of smuggling results in the death of one of the smuggled migrants, the sentence is increased to life imprisonment. (Art. 5.) Undocumented immigrants found in the country are subject to detention with hard labor or a fine of up to 1,000 Libyan dinars, followed by expulsion from Libya. (Art. 6.)Prepared by Ali Ebshara, Law Library intern, under the supervision of George Sadek, Foreign Law Specialist