IOM, UNICEF, UNHCR Step Up Protection for Children on the Move in Libya

One of the children at a Tripoli detention centre. Photo: C.Petre / IOM

Libya – IOM, UNICEF and UNHCR are enhancing migrant and refugee child protection measures in Libya. In March 2018, IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix identified some 29,370 unaccompanied migrant children in Libya – although the real figure could be much higher.

“Unaccompanied and separated children are at heightened risk of human trafficking, arbitrary detention, forced labour and sexual exploitation,” explained Othman Belbeisi, IOM Chief of Mission. “Enhancing our assistance and protection of children on the move is paramount to us as humanitarians. We welcome and encourage further cooperation between all relevant actors to ensure that we are able to better protect more children in Libya.”

IOM, UNICEF and UNHCR established procedural safeguards for the implementation of a consistent set of actions for the protection of unaccompanied and separated migrant and refugee boys and girls under the age of 18 in Libya. A Best Interest Determination (BID) panel is convened for complex cases where child protection experts discuss and identify protection solutions for individual cases.

In the first BID Panel, which took place in the Libyan capital Tripoli on 29 March, experts from IOM, UNICEF and UNHCR addressed the case of Sofiya* (name changed to protect identity), a seven-year-old girl from West Africa. The final recommendation was to reunite Sofiya with her father in her country of origin.

“Regardless of the legal status, circumstances and reasons behind a child being on the move, a child is a child and the deprivations and harm that children experience during the dangerous journeys shake the foundation of their physical and emotional development,” said Abdel-Rahman Ghandour, UNICEF Special Representative for Libya.

“Cooperation with IOM and UNHCR is essential to enable us to find a durable solution for every child,” he added

“One of the key priorities of UNHCR is to protect within its capacity the rights of all children falling under its mandate, particularly refugees and asylum seekers. To achieve this, UNHCR is committed support the establishment of comprehensive child protection systems in Libya that include mechanisms to identify the best interests of the child,” said Roberto Mignone, UNHCR Chief of Mission in Libya.

“Inter-agency collaboration is key in this regard to ensure that children in need of international protection, who cannot return to their countries of origin, are identified and referred for protection and solutions to UNHCR,” he added. 

In 2017, Sofiya left her home in the West Africa with her mother. Hoping for a better life, they embarked on the dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossing in an attempt to reach Europe. But they never made it to Italy. Instead, Sofiya lost her mother at sea and was brought back to Libya by the Coast Guard.

The child was transferred to a detention centre, where she was identified by IOM as an unaccompanied child. IOM visited Sofiya on regular basis to conduct a child protection assessment and started efforts to trace her family back home.

After a few weeks, IOM found Sofiya’s father and initiated the family verification. Sofiya’s father expressed immense relief and happiness of hearing news about his daughter.

“When working with unaccompanied and separated children it is of key importance to ensure that their best interest becomes the guiding principle for all actions, for both temporary and sustainable solutions,” said Barbara Pellegrini, IOM’s Child Protection Expert, conducting capacity building with relevant counterparts. To this end, a two-day training for Libyan counterparts, as well as Consular authorities representing the nationalities of the unaccompanied migrant children, has been planned to further ensure that the best interest of the child is the guiding principle for all actors.

In the beginning of April, Sofiya was reunited with her father in Abidjan, where a dozen friends welcomed her home at the airport. 

 For more information, please contact Christine Petre, IOM Libya, Tel: +21629240448, Email: