PROJECT “LIBORG” (2019-2021)

This project addresses the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the management of migration in Libya.

The research is carried out by Paolo Cuttitta, supervised by Antoine Pécoud and funded by an individual Marie Curie fellowship within the Horizon 2020 programme of the EU Commission (call: H2020-MSCA-IF-2018).

The aim of the project is to analyse NGOs’ activities in their relationship with the process of externalisation of EU migration and border policies, as well as with human rights.

Libya has long been a point of departure for people attempting the unauthorised sea-crossing to Europe. Italy (as the main landing country) and the EU have long been trying to include Libya in the process of externalisation of migration and border management, which aims to involve the governments of countries of origin and transit in their efforts to stem unwanted migration, and, more generally, aims at detaching border control activities from the territorial borders of destination countries. A crucial role in this process is played by international organisations (IOs) and other non-state actors, which: a) directly carry out activities in countries of origin and transit (e.g. refugee protection, repatriations, assistance to detained people, information campaigns); b) provide local state authorities with know-how and technical support.

While a growing body of research has started analysing this process, scant attention has been paid to Libya (as opposed to other countries) and to the role played by NGOs (as opposed to that played by IOs). Gadhafi’s fall allowed for many international NGOs to start activities in Libya, and for many new Libyan NGOs to be established. Since 2017, despite Libya’s political instability, the activities of NGOs in the country have increased sharply, along with the increase in funding from the EU and Italy. Extraordinary funding has been repeatedly made available to IOs, which typically subcontract part of their activities to NGOs. Moreover, six Italian NGOs started working in Libyan detention centres under a scheme funded by the Italian government in 2018.

Importantly, human rights have long been part of all initiatives aimed at enhancing regional cooperation between Europe and its southern neighbourhood. More specifically, they are also part of the process of humanitarianisation of the Mediterranean EU border in the field of migration management. While human rights can be powerful tools of emancipation and empowerment, they can also help perpetuating existing power unbalances.

The research project will, first, map the different NGOs operating in this field. Then, it will analyse their mandates and activities, as well as the relevant funding sources, and the relations (mutual influences, dependencies, alliances etc.) they have to one another as well as to state authorities and IOs.

With regard to externalisation, the research will try to answer the following questions: In how far is the externalisation lens appropriate to analyse NGOs’ activities? What strategies do state actors put in place to include NGOs in their externalisation plans, and how do NGOs respond to these? Do NGOs passively accept the framework in which they operate, or do they (also) try to contest and transform it by putting forward alternative agendas? Do they contribute to the current trend towards the depoliticisation of migration management, or do they try to repoliticise the externalised EU border? Do activities aimed at externalising EU migration and border policies through the work of NGOs actually fulfil their goals, or may they – at least sometimes – produce opposite results, by enhancing opportunities for people to travel further to Europe?

With regard to human rights, the research will try to answer the question of which human rights (ranging from ‘negative’ rights such as the right to life and the right not to be exposed to persecution, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, to ‘positive’ rights such as the right to leave any country, to self-determination or to a fair trial) are either prioritised or neglected in the externalisation process, and how, through the work of NGOs.