Libya unrest: Over 500 Indians return, more arriving amid tales of woe

February 27th, 2011 - 6:24 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 27 (IANS) Over 500 Indians arrived here from violence-torn Libya on two special flights Sunday to an emotional welcome from their relatives. Two more Air India flights are leaving to ferry more Indians back while three Indian Navy ships, as well as a chartered passenger ship, have set sail as part of India’s Operation Safe Homecoming to bring back its nationals.The government said 530 Indians who have returned are in “good health and cheer’.

However, many of those who returned from Libya, where the revolt against the Muammar Gaddafi government has turned violent and claimed over 1,000 lives, had harrowing tales to tell of suffering and killings in the strife-torn country. Some said they had gone without food and water for days.

Many passengers had worried relatives waiting for them outside Terminal 2 of Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) here. The first flight, a Boeing 747, carrying 291 Indian nationals, arrived here around Saturday midnight. The second batch of 237 evacuated passengers, who were picked from Libyan capital Tripoli, arrived in an Airbus A330 at 4.10 a.m. Sunday.

From being robbed to surviving without water and food for days, tales of pain, suffering - and finally rescue - rang out loud.

“They took away all my belongings — mobile phone, money, laptop and my car. Immediately after hearing the sound of gunshot, we went under a container and stayed there for 45 minutes and somehow we escaped after that,” said a tired looking Mohammad Sali, 63, who was working with a company as an engineer.

Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and A. Didar Singh, secretary in the ministry of overseas Indian affairs, were among those present present at the airport to receive the evacuated Indians.

“They are all in good health and cheer. The passengers included a large number of women and children,” the external affairs ministry said here. Libya is home to around 18,000 Indian nationals comprising professionals, doctors and engineers.

As Indians poured into the airport from flights from Libya, they were greeted by help desks set up by ten state governments at Terminal 2 to assist with food, accommodation, medical check up, transport and further travel arrangements of the passengers to their final destinations. All these facilities are being made available free of charge.

Terminal 2 was reactivated in just 24 hours by DIAL (Delhi International Airport) for the returnees from Libya and will be operational exclusively for handling all future dedicated flights, the ministry said.

Almost all those who escaped from the turmoil in Libya left behind all their assets and jobs.

“We left everything there and came back … had no plans to go back even if the situation gets normal,” said a woman evacuee.

“The trouble was mainly outside Tripoli. We were not involved in the trouble but feared it could affect us in Tripoli in the near future. We are concerned about people staying in isolated camps, provided by private companies,” said one of the passengers.

The planes arrived in Delhi at Terminal 2, the erstwhile international terminal of the IGIA which is currently used for special purposes like processing of Haj passengers. It has been specially leased from DIAL, which operates the airport.

Two more Air India flights are to leave for Tripoli Sunday to evacuate 500 more Indians from Libya.

Besides, a Gulf Air flight carrying 67 Indian who entered Egypt by land will touch down in Mumbai Monday morning. The 67, including 11 children and two infants, crossed over from Tabrouk in Libya to Salloum in Egypt Saturday afternoon.

“They were received at the border by (Indian) embassy officials who facilitated their entry into Egypt. Emergency certificates were issued to those who did not have passports,” the ministry said.

The Indian mission has booked them to fly to Mumbai by Gulf Air GF-056, which will arrive at 5.05 a.m. Monday, the ministry said.

On Saturday evening, 88 people had crossed over by road from Libya to Ras Jedir in the neighbouring Tunisia. They were received by officials of Indian embassy, Tunis, who have set up a camp there.

The 88, who work for Punj Lloyd, have since been housed in a hotel in Djerba (Tunisia), from where they are likely to be flown back to India soon.

Another 170 Indians are likely to reach Ras Jedir Sunday, the ministry said.

MV Scotia Prince, a passenger ship with a capacity of 1,200 chartered by the government, set sail from Port Said (Egypt) at 10 p.m. Saturday and is reaching Benghazi later Sunday.

The Indian government has also chartered a second passenger ship LA SUPERBA with a capacity of 1,600. It is presently berthed in Sicily (Italy) and ready to sail to Libya as soon as port preparations are completed, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, three Indian Navy ships - INS Jalashwa, INS Mysore and INS Aditya - have also sailed to Libya.

INS Jalashwa and INS Mysore are specially equipped with full medical facilities on board, including operation theatres, doctors and paramedical staff. They set sail from Mumbai.

The main rescue vessel, INS Jalashwa is a Landing Platform Dock-type amphibious platform particularly designed for sea lift mission and also capable of undertaking humanitarian missions, while INS Mysore is a Delhi Class destroyer.

The ships are also carrying helicopters and a contingent of marine Special Forces personnel.

INS Aditya is accompanying the two rescue ships to provide them the necessary logistics support.

The ships will evacuate Indian nationals from Libya to either Malta or Egypt, from where they will be transferred by air to India.

The rescue fleet is expected to reach Libya in 10 days’ time, the official said.

The last time an operation on this scale was mounted to evacuate Indians
was after Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

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