Rome (AsiaNews) – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said a "humanitarian emergency" was developing in Libya as thousands of people fled the North African country, scene of a popular uprising against the 40-year-old rule of Muammar Kaddafi. The UN agency said that at least 100,000 foreign workers left the strife-torn country by air, land and sea. Many of the escapees are from Asia, trying to get out by any means. Some have left thanks to rescue operations by their governments.
Two ferries docked late Sunday with some 300 people on the small Mediterranean island of Malta, which has become a key hub in the desperate scramble to get foreigners out of Libya.
Malta's Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said his island nation had received some 8,000 people since the Libyan crisis began and he feared that an even greater exodus could lead to a disaster.
Earlier a ferry arrived in Malta loaded with some 1,800 Asian workers, including citizens of China, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
However, many more are left in the country. Foreign governments have prepared evacuation plans, but fighting between government troops and rebels are making rescue operations difficult.
Libya is one of the world’s largest oil producers. Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers are employed in the oil industry or construction. Many are also domestic workers.
China said it had evacuated nearly 29,000 of its nationals from Libya. The Foreign Ministry in Beijing said around 2,500 Chinese citizens had already returned home and 23,000 more had been sent to Greece, Malta, Tunisia, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, where they were waiting to board flights home. An additional 3,400 had left Libya aboard ships and were making their way to Greece, it added.
So far, Nepal welcomed home about 2,000 of its national, many suffering from malnutrition after going nine days without food. However, other groups of Nepalis do not have the right papers or the money to buy a ticket. Hundreds are lost somewhere in Libya after their papers were burnt during rebel attacks against companies controlled by the government.
India has also proceeded to repatriate its citizens. Indian authorities organised two flights to bring back about 500 of the 18,000 Indians in Libya. New Delhi also dispatched three warships to help with the evacuation. A passenger ferry arrived in the eastern city of Benghazi to take Indian evacuees to Alexandria in Egypt, from where they will be flown home.
Mohammed Sali, the first Indian to make it back home, told the BBC that he was robbed of all his possessions at knifepoint as he reached Tripoli airport.
Hundreds of workers from Vietnam and Philippines crossed into neighbouring Algeria.
About 900 Vietnamese have made it home; another 4,000 are on their way. Vietnamese authorities said that almost 7,500 of its citizens will have left Libya by Wednesday.
Manila also began repatriating its nationals. However, critics at home have lambasted the government for its slow reaction to the crisis. The Filipino Embassy in Tripoli organised convoys, one carrying 550 Filipinos to Tunisia.
The Foreign Ministry in Manila announced that 1,877 Filipinos out of 26,000 working in the country were able to get out. Labour groups retorted that at least 30,000 Filipinos were working in Libya, saying that government figures were out of date.
At least 4,000 out of 60,000 workers from Bangladesh reached the borders with Egypt and Tunisia. A Chinese company brought 800 Bangladeshi to Crete by sea.
“The government has not evacuated any Bangladeshi workers so far. But we have all preparations ready if the situation worsens," a government minister said.
In the meantime, some 30 South Koreans managed to get out on board a Turkish army vessel. According to South Korea authorities, at least 500 South Koreans are still thought to be in Libya.
The Sveti Stefan II, a ship chartered by Russian businesses operating in Libya, picked up 1,126 people, as a Russian emergency situations ministry plane flew to Tripoli.
Meanwhile, Turkey's foreign ministry said on Sunday that it had sent a military cargo plane to Libya to repatriate 125 nationals who were rescued after being held hostage in Tripoli. (D.S.)
(Kalpit Parajuli contributed to the article)