Foreigners flee Libya 'hell'

2011-02-25 07:40
London - Foreigners on Friday faced hellish scenes in Tripoli as countries worldwide sent planes and warships in a desperate bid to rescue their nationals from the chaos engulfing Libya.

Anarchy descended on Tripoli airport as thousands of foreigners packed into the terminal to try to escape the widening crisis, with those who managed to leave describing how food and water were running low.

Nearly 20 000 people have also fled Libya by road to Tunisia over the past four days amid the bloodshed sparked by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s attempts to cling to power.

"Libya is descending into hell," said Helena Sheehan, who made it to London Gatwick Airport on the first specially-chartered British rescue flight.

"The airport is like nothing I've ever seen in my whole life," the 66-year-old said. "It's absolute chaos. There's just thousands and thousands of people trying to get out."

Other foreigners told of gunmen standing on roundabouts and getting on buses looking for mercenaries.

Italy, the nearest major European country and Libya's biggest trading partner, warned of a looming "catastrophic humanitarian crisis" as up to 1.5 million migrants flee north Africa.

Rough weather

The logistical challenges were especially acute for Asian countries with more than 150 000 low-paid workers trapped - including some 60 000 Bangladeshis and 30 000 Filipinos.

A US-chartered ferry carrying 285 evacuees remained stuck in the port of Tripoli, the State Department said.

Rough weather kept the ferry from sailing to the island of Malta, said State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley, who said those aboard were not in immediate danger.

"These people have been on board the ship for...well over 24 hours. I'm sure they're uncomfortable. They slept last night on the ship," he told reporters.

China ramped up a massive air, sea and land operation to evacuate more than 30 000 of its citizens, with over 4 000 transferred to the nearby Greek island of Crete on Thursday.

Emergency plans

Evacuee Jill Wang, 24, a translator working for a construction firm near Benghazi, said: "We did not go outside the compound, but others who did were robbed by gangs and some got injured. We were really scared and afraid that something worse would happen."

Around 200 Greeks were evacuated on board C-130 troop transport planes, the foreign ministry said.

Greek evacuee Costas Koumentakos, from Athens, said: "We had local friends, they saved us. We were afraid because someone could kill you without answering to no one. There is no police, it's anarchy."

A Spanish military plane returned to Madrid from Tripoli early on Friday carrying 40 Spaniards and 84 people of other nationalities including British, Finnish, Mexican, Canadian, Ukrainian and Portuguese, Spanish media reported.

Migrante International, a support group for Philippines workers abroad, said Filipinos had been left to fend for themselves, as Vice President Jejomar Binay planned to fly to the region to review emergency plans.

Read more on:    muammar gaddafi  |  libya  |  libya protests  |  north africa  |  uprisings

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