Can I Apply for U.S. Asylum If I'm From Libya?

How recent changes in Libya affect eligibility of people fleeing persecution there.

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The prospects for asylum seekers from Libya to gain protection in the U.S. have become uncertain, owing to volatility in the country's political situation in recent years.

In 2011, students and human rights activists began a series of demonstrations in Libya. Government security forces responded violently. The situation escalated into a civil war between rebels and the Kaddafi government and ended with Kaddafi’s death months later.

The fall of Kaddafi’s regime in 2011 changed Libya from a dictatorship into a parliamentary democracy. By July 2012, Libya had held a free and fair election. Consequently, the U.S. government tends to take the view that Libyans who were persecuted or who feared persecution by Kaddafi, such as Libyan students in the U.S., may be able to return home safely.

On the other hand, certain peaceful demonstrations in Libya have recently turned violent, and employees for international organizations and diplomatic missions continue to be targets. See the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013, Libya.

Since the beginning of 2014, government officials, diplomats and journalists have been abducted by gunman who the Libyan government cannot control. (See the Associated Press report, “Jordan’s Ambassador, Freed in Libya, Returns Home.”)

Do Many People Gain Asylum From Libya?

The number of Libyans asking for asylum increased five times from 2010 to 2011. In 2010 there were 823 asylum applications from Libya—this increased to 3,800 applicants in 2011.

Most Libyans have sought asylum in the United Kingdom rather than the United States. (See “Asylum-seekers around the world: where did they come from and where are they going?”)

What Type of Asylum Claims Are Typical From Libya?

Libyans studying in the United States sometimes apply for asylum. Some students have even become politically active while in the United States, using the Internet to support their vision for Libya. (Overseas activity can support an asylum claim if it might result in persecution upon return.)

What Are Common Reasons for Denial of Asylum Claims From Libya?

To win asylum, an applicant must prove that he or she has been persecuted or fears persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Fleeing civil war, even to save your life, will not win a grant of asylum.

It is common for an Immigration Judge or Asylum Officer to deny asylum when the applicant cannot prove that he or she was specifically targeted on account of one of the five grounds mentioned.

What Can Libyans Do to Increase Their Chances of a Successful Asylum Claim?

Since 2011, Libya has been a democratic country. If you have suffered persecution in the past, it is important to explain why you would still be unsafe if returned to Libya. If you fled Libya with a well-founded fear of future persecution, you will need to convince an Immigration Judge or Asylum Officer that you would experience that persecution if you return. You will also need to explain why the Libyan government will not protect you.

If you have suffered severe persecution in the past, it is important to detail the harm. If the harm you experienced was extremely severe and on account of one of the five grounds, the judge or officer may grant asylum even though you might be safe returning home. (See, for example, Nolo's Q&A on, "With no fear of continued persecution, can I claim asylum based on other serious harm I might face?".)

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