Migration in Libya: A Spatial Network Analysis

Michele Di Maio, Valerio Leone Sciabolazza and Vasco Molini




Libya is both a transit hub for legal and illegal migration as well as a destination country for international migrants, including refugees. This paper provides an empirical assessment of migration patterns to, within, and from Libya during 2017 and 2018.
The analysis exploits data from IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) for the period January 2016 to April 2018. DTM data is collected through a network of key informants at Flow Monitoring Points (FMPs), including information on the frequency and volume of migrants (including international migrants, refugees and IDPs) residing in, arriving at, and leaving from a specific FMP. For those already present at the FMP, it records the nationality, planned destination, and length of stay. The authors employ spatial statistical methods to analyze location choices and identify patterns in migration movements, enabling the identification hotspots and clusters and major gateways for international migrants passing through Libya. Social network analysis was used to map the network of migration movements, determine the level of migratory pressure in different provinces, and identify the formation of network hubs.

Key findings:

  • The vast majority (97 percent) of migrants are males. In 2017, females and children were 3 percent and 5 percent of the migrant population, respectively.
  • The five top nationalities registered at flow monitoring points in 2017 and 2018 were Egyptian, Nigerien, Nigerian, Sudanese and Chadian. The five preferred arrival destinations registered at flow monitoring points in 2017 and 2018 were Libya, Italy, France, Germany and Egypt. Some African countries appear as origins and
    destinations (e.g. Egypt, Chad, Mali, Niger).
  • Migration in Libya can be characterized as forced migration because conflict intensity is the main determinant of decisions to relocate from one province to another. The probability of observing a migration flow toward a province with fewer conflicts is 18 percent higher with respect to a situation in which migrants move at random.
  • There are increasing numbers of hotspots and clusters of migrants. From 2017 to 2018, the number of migrant hotspots increased, and the area around Tripoli continues to represent a cluster of provinces attracting migrants.
  • There is a dense network of connections across provinces. For each province, there is not a unique migration route from or to any other province, suggesting that individual-level characteristics play an important role in choice of migration route.
  • Between 2017 and 2018 there were changes in internal migration routes between provinces. This might reflect a reduction in the total number of migrants in the provinces, as well as a reorganization along migration paths, with migrants more evenly distributed over all paths.
  • Migrants from the same country of origin, moving in the same direction, sorted themselves into contiguous routes following similar paths.
  • West African countries are the origin for most migrants. Outside Africa, Asia, specifically Bangladesh, plays a major role.
  • Europe is the preferred destination for migrants. The second-most-preferred destination in 2017 is Western Asia (Kuwait, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey), but this
    almost disappears in 2018. For receiving countries, most migrants originated in West Africa, but East Africa played an increasing role, with a significant increase in the number of migrants reaching Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden. There was also an increase in the number of Asian migrants reaching France and Germany.
  • The network of international migrants’ movements between Libyan provinces became less dense in 2018. Two changes are apparent: (a) the number of origin
    countries decreased; and (b) migrants from a given origin country are found in fewer Libyan provinces in 2018 than in 2017. This suggests a consolidation in the set of origin countries and in the routes that migrants followed.
  •  At the same time, the number of destination countries decreased, and each destination country had fewer connections. In particular, some of the African countries reported as preferred destinations in 2017 disappeared from the list in 2018 (Chad, Mali, and Nigeria). The fact that these are all conflict-affected countries
    suggests that migrants who initially hoped that they would be able to return have instead migrated to Europe. This would explain the drastic reduction in the number of connections between Libyan provinces.
  • Three international migrant passages can be identified running across the country: (1) an eastern route (from Alkufra to Tobruk); (2) a central route (from Murzuq to Tripoli); and (3) a western route (from Ghat province to Zwara and Aljfara provinces).
  •  The location and number of refugees and IDPs across Libyan provinces did not change much between 2017 and 2018.

The authors conclude that migration flows are complex phenomena that must be analyzed using multiple complementary methodologies to be correctly described and understood.