Tunisian Labour Migration to Libya: A Strategic Tool to Tackle Unemployment?

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The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), in partnership with the Office for Tunisians Abroad (OTE), have published a new study on employment opportunities for Tunisians in Libya. 

The study, Migration of Tunisians to Libya: Dynamics, Challenges and Prospects, conducted during the first half of 2012 in 19 Tunisian governorates, is based on two surveys – one of Tunisian returnees from Libya (TRLs) and a second of unemployed Tunisians, as well as interviews with Tunisian and Libyan officials.

The study provides an overview of migration of Tunisians to Libya and evaluates potential cooperation between Tunisia and Libya in the areas of employment and training. The AfDB is mandated to promote economic integration in Northern Africa and has published recent studies on regional integration and Tunisia-Libya relations.

“This study complements IOM’s efforts to promote regional cooperation in the field of migration management, to evaluate needs and to stabilize communities experiencing high levels of unemployment and problems associated with reintegrating returnees from Libya,” explains IOM Chief of Mission in Tunisia Lorena Lando.

“The study shows that Libya has great potential for absorbing Tunisian skilled and unskilled labour,” says Jacob Kolster, Director of the Department for Northern Africa at the AfDB. 

According to OTE, about 40,000 Tunisians living in Libya returned to Tunisia following the Libyan crisis in 2011. Most were married men with relatively low levels of education and professional qualifications.

The study shows that 70.4 per cent of them wish to return to Libya, or have already done so. Some 39.5 per cent of them returned to Libya because of their precarious economic situation in Tunisia, lack of livelihoods and because they wanted to get back the jobs that they had lost.

The study, which is the first to analyze this category of migrants, also included interviews with a cross-section of unemployed Tunisians, in order to assess their willingness to find a job in Libya. The survey shows that 30.1 per cent of them are willing to join the Libyan labour market, as they consider that employment prospects in Libya are much better than in Tunisia. These prospective migrants, despite their overall low levels of education, have higher levels of professional qualifications and diplomas than other unemployed Tunisians or the TRLs.

The study underlines that cooperation between Libya and Tunisia in the field of labour migration has huge potential and could be a strategic factor in Tunisia’s fight against unemployment. “The Libyan labour market has a great potential to create jobs in both quantitative and qualitative terms,” says Emanuele Santi, AfDB Senior Country Economist for Tunisia and AfDB coordinator of the study.

Following the Tunisian and Libyan revolutions, the authorities of both countries have expressed a willingness to reinforce cooperation in the areas of migration, employment and training. This led to the signing of new agreements in 2012.

But despite these measures and the potential upside of closer cooperation, most Tunisians are not in a hurry to join the Libyan labour market. According to the study, this reluctance is linked to the low levels of cooperation between institutional services and actors involved in the migration process, the security situation in Libya and the difficulty in anticipating and articulating the needs of Libya’s labour market.

Strategic recommendations in the study designed to develop more efficient Tunisian-Libyan labour migration policies include:

  • Creation of a structure to coordinate all agreements and steer the migration process between the two countries.
  • Establishment of a Tunisian inter-ministerial committee dedicated to the Libyan labour market to optimize existing fundamental agreements.
  • Establishment of a procedural framework to optimize labour matching between Tunisia and Libya.
  • Guidance and follow-up with Tunisian workers who are willing to migrate to Libya; implementation of efficient measures to prevent irregular migration; facilitating the return of Tunisian migrants in a sustainable development perspective.