The Arab Spring has not radically transformed migration patterns in the Mediterranean, and the label ‘migration crisis’ does not do justice to the composite and stratified reality.
While the phenomenon of ‘mixed migratory flows’ has long been recognised, this was the first time it applied to a large-scale displacement. It required a coordinated humanitarian response for a large and diverse group of displaced persons.
The large-scale displacement associated with the recent popular uprisings in North Africa both reinforces and challenges the role of legal protection mechanisms.
Migrants left Libya in haste and in fear for their lives. Possessions and valuables were abandoned in the rush to leave. A rapid international response saved lives and facilitated the return home but a premature return may have some unwelcome repercussions.
When evacuated Bangladeshi migrants arrived home, the government, civil society, international organisations and the private sector cooperated to help them.
Tunisian people, rather than their government, led the response to the humanitarian crisis when Libyans started their own revolt and people starting fleeing across the border.
With Tunisia experiencing wide-ranging political, social and economic change, there is an imperative need to alleviate the burden of hosting people fleeing Libya who are unable to return to their countries of origin.
Inability to access pre-displacement housing, land and property poses a significant obstacle to the achievement of durable solutions for most IDPs in Libya. Displacement and dispossession cannot be separated from the legacy of the Gaddafi era.
For many refugees in Egypt the weeks of the revolution were marked by isolation, fear and brutality. In the aftermath of the revolution, the promise of greater freedom has not yet been extended to refugees.
The 2011 Libya crisis brought into sharp focus how global migration patterns are re-defining the range and type of needs and vulnerabilities of persons affected by a humanitarian crisis.
What humanitarians can expect more of in the future is more mixed flows defying rigid categorisation and calling for a humanitarian response based on common needs for assistance and protection.
Events in North Africa in 2011 transformed the pattern of boat arrivals in Europe – significantly in terms of the motivations of those arriving but with smaller numbers than might have been anticipated. The EU’s response indicates that more is needed to translate a commitment to solidarity from limited aid and statements of principle into practical reality.
The Dublin II Regulation makes the first safe country of refuge solely responsible for refugees and asylum seekers. In the case of Italy, the first responsible country has not been acting responsibly.
Irregular and mixed migration is still of great concern in post-revolutionary Libya, made more complex by the securitisation of border control issues and the inherent challenges of an interim government consolidating its authority.
‘New’ humanitarian leaders are growing in profile, impact and capacity. They need to be recognised as equals by the international humanitarian community.
A number of new initiatives point to ways in which the international community – particularly governments – could help reduce the vulnerabilities of migrant workers during conflict and crisis situations.