A high-level WHO mission to Libya took place on 4–7 May 2018 to review the migrant health situation in the country, to identify the immediate public health needs and discuss the best ways to address them. The mission was led by Dr Ranieri Guerra, WHO Assistant Director General of Special Initiatives, and it included Dr Jaffar Hussain, WHO Representative and Head of Mission in Libya; Dr Santino Severoni, Coordinator of Public Health and Migration for WHO/Europe; and Dr Ali Ardalan, Emergency Coordinator WHO Libya. The high-level mission was a joint effort of WHO headquarters, WHO/Europe and the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, in line with WHO’s interregional collaboration approach.
The aim of the mission was to actively promote an approach that emphasizes universal health coverage, ensuring that migrants and displaced people are not left behind. It also provided an opportunity for WHO to establish and strengthen cross-border, multicountry operations and collaboration between country offices in states that share borders or that are involved in the regional movement of migrants, refugees and internally displaced people (IDP).
As of February 2018, Libya had more than 700 000 international migrants according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with some sources citing a figure as high as 1 million. International migrants make up approximately 12% of the total population in Libya. Human Rights Watch reports that of the more than 200 000 migrants and asylum seekers that reached Europe by sea in 2017, most departed in boats from Libya. Migrants attempting to make the crossing to Europe are sometimes intercepted and detained by coastguard forces. As of 23 February 2018, more than 2500 refugees and migrants had been disembarked in Libya by the national coastguard following operations at sea.