Last year Skye Fitzgerald documented the work of Sea Watch, a Berlin-based humanitarian organization. Skye (Director/Producer) and Kenny Allen (DP) accompanied volunteers on a search and rescue operation pulling refugees from overloaded rafts off the coast of Libya. The upcoming documentary to emerge from their work on the mission is titled SAR (Search & Rescue). The trailer is below.
Today many refugees start their journey on the coast of Libya. This blog looks at the reasons for Libya’s popularity as a departure point for refugees. It also looks at some of the threats that refugees face before they even enter the sea.
The Situation in Libya
In 2013 Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Gaddafi was killed during the Libyan Civil War. His death resulted in a power vacuum. Today a number of different groups, including ISIS, wage war against one another in order to control the country. As a result of the war, over 5,000 people have been killed since 2014 (Source).
Gateway for Refugees
The crisis in Libya has contributed to the country becoming a popular departure location for refugees. Libya is a popular point to cross from for a number of reasons. First, it is close to Lampedusa, an island off the coast of Italy. Second, the country has the longest coastline in Africa. Finally, Libya’s borders are relatively open as a result of the civil war, allowing the free, albeit dangerous, movement of refugees through the fractured nation-state.
Threats that Refugees Face
Although Libya is an attractive point of departure, refugees face many dangers once they enter the country. If they are caught they will often be placed in detention centers where they face torture and abuse. The smugglers that assist with the crossing can also be a threat. Smugglers routinely steal travelers’ passports, demand additional money from the refugees, sexually abuse the women, and generally prey upon the population. It is also not uncommon for smugglers to kidnap unescorted children for ransom. Additionally, the presence of ISIS has made it particularly dangerous for Christian refugees.
Libya as a Magnet
It’s believed that most of the refugees who use Libya as a crossing point come from the following countries: “Tunisia, Syria, Algeria, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Somalia, Kenya, the Sudan region, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria” (Lee). One country to note, in particular, is Eritrea. Refugees routinely flee Eritrea in order to avoid compulsory military conscription where they may face sexual abuse, torture, and combat in an on-going war with Ethiopia.
Ultimately, Fitzgerald hopes that his documentary will shed more light on the crisis so that the European Union, United Nation authorities, and civil society place more focus on assisting the large number of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean each year and take greater action to address the underlying factors instigating the mass migration.