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Middle East
Expats flee chaotic Libya en masse
Thousands camp outside Tripoli's airport for days on little more than bread and water in the hope of leaving.
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2011 01:06 GMT
An atmosphere of panic and chaos gripped Tripoli's international airport [Reuters]

Thousands of foreign workers have fled Libya by air, land and sea in a vast exodus from the oil-rich North African state as terrified residents of Tripoli braced for a bloody showdown.

A British warship and a Chinese-chartered ferry docked in the Mediterranean island of Malta on Saturday loaded with 2,500 people from Libya's vast multinational workforce including domestic helpers, construction workers and oil executives.

Meanwhile thousands of Egyptian migrant workers continued to stream across Libya's land border with Tunisia despite warnings from humanitarian organisations that emergency supplies and housing have run out.

Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Nigeria, the Philippines and South Korea are among the countries that have or had large communities in Libya -- drawn by an oil boom that has brought billions of euros (dollars) in investments.

In Bangladesh, hundreds of angry relatives of workers stranded in Libya blocked a key highway northeast of the capital Dhaka, accusing the government of dragging its heels in rescuing the estimated 60,000 Bangladeshis there.

The impoverished South Asian country has said it is seeking to ensure the safety of its citizens, most of them low-paid contract workers in the construction industry, but it has no immediate plans to bring them home.

Many evacuations have had to be carried out in dramatic weather conditions.

Britain's HMS Cumberland frigate left the rebel-held port of Benghazi in eastern Libya on Thursday carrying 207 passengers but was forced to travel at a reduced speed because of the high waves in the Mediterranean.

Richard Weeks, a 64-year-old British manager on the ship that arrived in Malta on Saturday, told how he was robbed during the unrest.

"They were armed with knives and knew they could take what they wanted, so it was better to let them get on with it," he said.

The British defence ministry quoted him as saying it was "terrifying".

As the last charter flight set off from London to Libya, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said "a lot of work" was also under way to extract up to 170 British oil workers stranded in remote desert locations.

Chinese workers

A ferry that docked in Malta later on Saturday carried 2,216 Chinese nationals also from Benghazi, who will remain on board until planes come to pick them up.

Nearly 3,000 Chinese also landed on the Greek island of Crete on Saturday, as China said 16,000 of its 33,000 citizens have been evacuated so far.

Some 500 people from 25 countries also boarded two Turkish army vessels in Libya, together with about 1,200 Turks, officials in Ankara said.

India said two specially chartered planes had left for Tripoli to begin the evacuation of some 18,000 Indians in the strife-torn country.

Meanwhile a group of dozens of Filipinos out of an estimated 26,000 in Libya including domestic helpers and white-collar workers arrived in Manila.

A US-chartered ferry carrying hundreds of people from Tripoli including American diplomats docked in Malta on Friday after braving 20-foot (six-metre) waves, with at least two evacuees taken away on stretchers by paramedics.

A second privately chartered ferry from Libya with hundreds of evacuees on board arrived in Malta on Friday, along with two German warships set to take away German citizens airlifted out of Libya earlier this week.

Thousands of Egyptian migrant workers have also crossed into Tunisia.

"The Egyptian consulate in Tunis told us that the Egyptians would organise 17 flights today" to bring their citizens back, Monji Slim, the local Red Crescent representative, told AFP at the Tunisia-Libya border.

Chaos at Tripoli airport

An atmosphere of panic and chaos gripped Tripoli's international airport, strewn with luggage left behind by fleeing passengers and besieged by crowds on Saturday trying to escape the escalating violence.

Huddled in makeshift tents in a camp that sprawls outside the main terminal, thousands of people, many of them migrant workers from the Middle East and Africa, have camped out for days on little more than bread and water in the hope of leaving.

Long queues snaked outside in the dark as terrified crowds tried to make their way into the building on Saturday evening.

 Heaps of discarded clothes, torn bags and suitcases were scattered around. As night fell and temperatures dropped, many huddled together in the cold, wrapped in blankets.

"I've been here for six days. We have only eaten biscuits. Sometimes there is even no water," said one man from Egypt. He did not give his name for fear of reprisals from security men still loyal to Muammar Gaddafi who patrolled nearby.

There were no toilet facilities and men urinated in public.

Makeshift stalls sold loaves of bread for $4 a piece -- more than four times its usual market price.

Many thousands remained trapped in the country, mostly from other parts of the Middle East and Africa, many of whom lack tickets or proper documentation.

The International Organisation of Migration in Geneva says tens of thousands have fled across the border into Tunisia and is appealing for millions of dollars (euros) in international aid to help cope with the emergency.

Hundreds of foreigners including Egyptians, Iraqis and Syrians have also been fleeing from Libya into Algeria through the Sahara Desert.

On Friday the NATO military alliance offered to help evacuation efforts and the European Union said 3,600 EU nationals remained stranded in Libya.

Italy, Libya's former colonial ruler, has already evacuated hundreds of its citizens and a military assault vessel that loaded around 245 evacuees in the Libyan port of Misrata was expected to arrive in Sicily on Sunday.

Source:
Agencies
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