Asian Labour Migrants and Humanitarian Crises: Lessons from Libya
This brief provides a background on the displacement and evacuation of migrant workers caught in the Libyan civil war. It highlights questions raised as a result of this crisis regarding the response of the international community, discusses lessons learned from the Libyan experience, and identifies several policy recommendations for better addressing the protection needs of labor migrants during humanitarian crises.
Because national frameworks on the protection of civilians and their rights usually do not apply to temporary migrant workers, the authors find that the vulnerability of these individuals was exacerbated during the Libyan conflict. The lack of an international legal framework that addresses this protection gap is compounded by challenges specific to migrant workers, such as difficulty accessing travel documents, limited knowledge of local languages and cultures, and the risk of trafficking, among others. Furthermore, a case study of Bangladeshi returnees demonstrates that challenges remain even after repatriation, as many migrant workers return to families dependent on remittances with large debts incurred during the migration process. Authors also find that these individuals are usually keen to re-migrate, often unaware of the implications of returning to a location that has recently undergone civil war or political upheaval.
While the Libya crisis emphasizes the level of complexity associated with the protection of individuals who are neither the first priority of local governments and civil society groups nor found in the standard provisions of humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons, authors suggest that the global community—particularly labor-sending Colombo Process Member States—can better prepare for similar crises in the future by developing standard operating procedures for the protection of foreign workers, creating an emergency evacuation and repatriation fund, offering micro-insurance to migrant workers, training migrants in contingency planning, building embassies’ capacity to protect labor migrants, and developing post-return and reintegration plans.