© Guillaume Binet/Myop


Since the end of the Muammar Gaddafi regime in 2011, Libya has been divided by armed conflict and the violence has escalated in recent years

MSF's response to coronavirus in Libya

We are fighting the coronavirus pandemic in Libya. To get the most up-to-date information about our operations, visit our COVID-19 hub.

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Libya has been renowned for the capricious 42-year rule of Colonel Muammar Gadaffi. Today, it is an embarkation point for people trying to reach Europe in search of a better life. 

Map of MSF's activities in Libya, 2015

Following years of conflict, a new UN-backed "unity" government was installed in Tripoli in 2016. It faces opposition from two rival governments and a host of militias.

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) first began working in Libya in 2011, when the country was plunged into chaos after fighting between rival factions caused people to flee their homes.

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Tripoli conflict

Update: July 2019

The situation in Tripoli is extremely concerning. Since clashes erupted in April, the World Health Organization had reported 910 deaths, including 50 civilians, on 2 July.

With approximately 60 dead and 70 wounded, the airstrike on the Tajoura detention centre at midnight the same day more than doubled the civilian death toll, putting it at over 100 dead in three months of conflict.

More than 104,875 people have been forced to flee from their homes, according the International Organization for Migration.

Since the onset of the conflict in Tripoli, 19 ambulances have been struck, six health workers have been killed and 12 others have been wounded. Four health facilities have been hit by airstrikes or shelling and two of them had to be fully evacuated.

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MSF is calling for immediate humanitarian evacuation out of Libya for refugees and migrants exposed to the most imminent life-threatening risks, including those trapped in Tripoli detention centres.

We are calling for the immediate humanitarian evacuation out of Libya for refugees and migrants exposed to the most imminent life-threatening risks, including those trapped in Tripoli detention centres. Urgent solutions to end arbitrary detention must be found.

So far since the onset of the conflict, only 1,296 refugees have been moved out of the country, while almost 2,700 have been intercepted at sea, forced back to Libya in violation of international law, and put into the same dangerous conditions of detention from which UNHCR is trying to evacuate people.

More people are coming into Libya than are being evacuated out. People rescued at sea must not be sent back into this cycle of suffering on Libyan shores.

MSF’s work in Libya: 2017

MSF continues to provide medical care to refugees and migrants detained in Tripoli.

MSF is in Libya’s capital providing medical care to refugees and migrants in detention centres. During the first quarter of 2017, we carried out over 4,000 medical consultations in seven detention centres across Tripoli.

These centres are nominally under the control of the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM).

Each month, our mobile clinic teams treated around 1,300 people for conditions such as: skin disease, diarrhoeal disease, acute malnutrition, respiratory, and urinary tract infections. 

These preventable diseases are a direct result of living in detention centres. The conditions inside the do not meet any national, regional or international standards.


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Tiziana CauliCommunications Officer

Adult malnutrition

The food provided is often not sufficient in quantity and quality. 

In the first three months of 2017, there were 42 acutely malnourished patients in our therapeutic feeding programme.

During this period, we observed interruptions in food supply in two centres - leaving detainees days without any food. 


It is unclear exactly how the detention system functions. With no rule of law in Libya, many detention centres are dangerously overcrowded.

People are held arbitrarily, appearing from one day to the next after being intercepted at sea, arrested on the streets, or rounded up in night raids. 

Confining a large number of people in such small spaces causes musculoskeletal pain, and is a hotbed for the easy transmission of diseases such as scabies and chickenpox.

MSF visits a desperately overcrowded detention centre in Tripoli.

Mental health support

Many detainees often have no idea why, or for how long, they will be detained – having a direct impact on their mental health.

A large number suffer from hypervigilance, while many others have suicidal thoughts, difficulty sleeping, post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), panic attacks, depression and anxiety.

MSF runs psychosocial activities in detention centres and carries out individual counselling sessions.

Violence-related injuries 

MSF is treating violence-related injuries including visible scars, bruising, and lacerations.

Lifesaving referrals

In the event of a medical emergency, MSF will attempt to refer people to hospitals in Tripoli. 

During the first quarter of the year, we referred more than 53 people who urgently needed specialised medical care. 

Each referral is very complicated and time-consuming, as hospitals do not want to admit detainees.

Access to drinking water and toilets

MSF installed water tanks, pipelines and tanks in several detention centres. Daily water availability now meets or surpasses the minimum quantity for drinking and washing.

We supplied personal hygiene items to all detainees, plus soap and cleaning materials to keep the premises clean. 

However, we have observed that items are sometimes confiscated and people do not always have 24-hour access to the bathroom.

Limitations to medical work

This all takes place within a highly militarised environment: our doctors are not always given full freedom to decide which patients get help, and privacy is not guaranteed.

It is a difficult choice for us to work where people are kept in conditions without human dignity. 

However, our hope is that, by being present and providing medical care, we can improve detention conditions and alleviate peoples’ suffering to some extent.

MSF remains opposed to the arbitrary detention of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya.


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