Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Dispossession and Displacement in Libya

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Dispossession and Displacement in Libya

Article excerpt

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.

By post-conflict standards, Libya has relatively few internally displaced persons (IDPs) but many of these, including several entire displaced communities, face the prospect of protracted internal displacement. For households that remain displaced within their own towns due to the wartime destruction of their homes, durable solutions are largely contingent on reconstruction. However, for IDPs displaced away from their places of origin, inability to access prewar homes and properties is merely a symptom of the broader insecurity that has blocked virtually all return to date. In most cases, IDPs also face significant insecurity of tenure in their current locations.

Lurking behind both the insecurity currently facing IDPs and their difficulties accessing pre-war property are much broader questions related to the sweeping redistributions of property - waves of confiscation and partial compensation - undertaken under the Gaddafi regime. These acts are largely viewed as illegitimate by the interim National Transitional Council but there is broad recognition that any peremptory attempt to revoke them would risk destabilising the country. While IDPs - and some refugees in Libya - may be most immediately affected by such 'legacy' property issues, almost every constituency in the country and many in the diaspora have a stake in their resolution.

During the Gaddafi period, foreign-owned property was nationalised and Libyan-owned property redistributed. For example, Law No. 4 in 1978 transformed all tenants into owners of the homes or land they rented. Subsequent efforts to regulate and enforce this measure included the 1986 public burning of property records in the main squares of Libya's towns. Later efforts to partially reverse this policy through restitution and compensation for confiscated property were still underway at the time of the uprising. Property relations under the Gaddafi regime were symptomatic of a broader hollowing out of the state and the rule of law, the net effect of which was to undermine trust in the rule of law and public institutions generally.

Unable to return, unable to remain

During the uprising, a number of cities and towns suffered extensive destruction and several communities were subjected to mass displacement. …

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