Libya and Lebanon are both Mediterranean countries heavily affected by migration. Yet they are worlds apart when it comes to dealing with the issue. At least this is what emerged from a most interesting seminar on migration organised by the Konrad Adenauer Institute a few days ago.
When speakers touched upon the Libyan situation, it was made clear that political, social and economic investment in the Libyan post-revolutionary state-building transition have been lacking.
The country has characteristics of a failed State, despite having an internationally-recognised Government of National Accord.
At the same time, different parts of the country are run by competing tribal, Islamist and rebel militias, and Tripoli and Tobruk have different leaderships.
Libya is almost always used as a country of transit for migrants searching a better life in Europe via the Mediterranean. It was explained that most crossings start from two ports and when Silvio Berlusconi and Muammar Gaddafi had reached an agreement before the revolution, these diminished drastically. But what about the human rights of such persons?
Most people who cross through Libya are sub-Saharan, and they pay around $10,000 to cross illegally. Once they cross, Libya no longer assumes responsibility for them.
In the meantime, there is a push for an agreement between the EU and Libya to control migration. At face-value, this might sound like a simple solution.
But what about the fact that Libya is characterised by an uncontrolled flow of arms and war criminals, by the criminalisation of refugees, and by detention camps with gross violations of human rights? Not to mention that it has no unified security system.
Which takes us to Lebanon. This country has experienced its fair share of crises, but it is often seen as a beacon of hope and resilience in the turbulent Middle East.
In Lebanon, refugees are treated with dignity. Social rights are relatively high, and alienation is low
The country is a parliamentary democracy which guarantees high-ranking political offices to specific groups, which in this case are based on religious affiliation.
This system, erstwhile known as ‘consocioationalist’ is also found elsewhere for example in Northern Ireland and Belgium. It is usually implemented in divided societies to avoid sectarian conflict and to represent demographic fairness.
Before its 15-year-long civil war, which ended in 1990, Lebanon was a prosperous and stable country. Following its reconstruction, it experienced other crises, including the assassination of a Prime Minister, Syrian occupation and spin-offs from the Israeli-Hizbollah conflict.
In recent years, Lebanon has undergone parliamentary-term extensions and a vacant presidency for two years. The country is expected to have general elections next June.
Within this context, the country has the highest Human Development Index and Gross Domestic Product per capita in the Arab world, when one excludes the oil-rich Persian countries. In addition, it has an incredible demographic situation: besides 4.2 million Lebanese people, it also hosts 1.2 million Syrians as well as almost half a million Palestinians.
So how is Lebanon coping with the migration issue? A speaker in the conference, Based Shabb, said this has much to do with the Lebanese state and its honest relationship with the EU.
The major political parties representing Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Christians have made compromises, and the EU has heavily increased its assistance to the country since the Syrian civil war. Financial assistance is coupled with political investment in parliamentary procedure, civil society and rule of law.
The US has also given a lot of assistance to Lebanon, but it is not clear what will happen now that Trump is president. At the same time, European assistance is also focusing very much on security and the threat of terrorism.
Yet there is another factor which is of utmost importance when explaining the Lebanese example. Refugees are treated with dignity. Social rights are relatively high, and alienation is low. Social investment is therefore enabling relative stability amid a region characterised by turmoil and despair.
The Libyan and Lebanese examples show that the politics of migration should not only be about short-term solutions. It should also focus heavily on political, social and economic investment, a give-and-take approach, and, above all, genuine dialogue.
Michael Briguglio is a sociologist.