Foreigners flee Libyan chaos

Countries around the world step up efforts to evacuate citizens, but some warn an exodus of refugees could spark crisis.

    Nations around the world are evacuating thousands of people from the violent unrest in Libya, amid fears in some countries that the situation will lead to an exodus of illegal immigrants.

    On Thursday, European nationals and thousands of Chinese people landed on the Greek island of Crete, after boarding chartered ferries from Libya, while scores of Britons were evacuated via military plane to the Mediterranean island of Malta.

    "The situation was pretty bad over there ... we heard lots of gunfire and saw many burned-out buildings,'' Pantelis Kimendiadis, a Greek oil worker, told the AP news agency after disembarking the ferry.

    Countries including France, Italy, Turkey, China, France, Brazil, South Korea, Bosnia, Bulgaria and India, among others, have scrambled ships and planes to extricate their nationals.

    Turkey says it has ferried more that 7,000 people from Libya via sea and air since the weekend, with 3,000 arriving at the port of Marmaris early Thursday morning.

    Special forces

    Despite the efforts of foreign governments, tens of thousands of expatriates from around the world still remain stranded in Libya.

    A Filipino industry support group said thousands of its workers are desperate to be rescued, while rough weather has  left hundreds of Americans stranded on a ferry in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.


    The Egyptian military has kept the border crossing
    at Salloum open 24 hours a day during the unrest

    Al Jazeera's James Bays said there was "a desperate scene at Tripoli's airport", with a "log-jam" including people who have been trying to leave the country for three days.

    "The airport is still very firmly under the control of Gaddafi's people," he said, adding that secret police are patrolling the area, and several checkpoints have been set up on the road leading there.

    Britain has said it is considering using special forces to rescue about 170 workers marooned in desert camps away from Libya's main cities, after being criticised for not acting quickly enough.

    Some foreign workers are reported to be fleeing through Libya's borders with Tunisia and Egypt in an attempt to escape the country.

    "When we spoke to one group of construction workers last night, they said they will try to make it across the border to Egypt by bus today, because they haven't heard from any government official," Gary Martinez, chairman of Migrante International, told the AFP news agency.

    Nazanine Moshiri, Al Jazeera's correspondent near Ras Ajdir on Tunisia's border with Libya, said she had spoken to Chinese construction workers who had fled.

    "They were absolutely terrified. They spent four days they say sleeping underground, unable to come out with little food and water," she said, adding a group of Austrians reported witnessing a bloody gunbattle inside the country.

    'Potential invasion'

    Italy has also raised fears that a mass exodus could see hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants arrive on European shores.

    The Italian government, along with a group of other nations including Malta, Greece, Cyprus, France and Spain, took their concerns to an emergency European Union meeting on Thursday

    Harry Smith, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Rome, said the Italians "are hoping for solidarity" from their neighbours.

    "There's large numbers of people in Libya who live in sub Saharan Africa, and they believe many of them will try and get to Europe if law and order break down," he said. 

    Smith said they were appealing to the EU for "some sort of financial help and diplomatic pressure to be brought on Libya".

    "Italians feel they cannot take another wave of emergency immigration. They suffered a lot when there was chaos in Tunisia. So what they're looking for is not just economic help but diplomatic help from their European turmoil," he said.

    Robert Maroni, the Italian interior minister, warned of "a catastrophic humanitarian emergency" on Thursday, and said his country faced a potential "invasion of 1.5m people" that would "bring the country to its knees".

    Yet Germany suggested the southern European countries were exaggerating the threat, and that the EU should concentrate on helping rebuild countries including Libya and Tunisia.

    "Italy is under strain, but it is far from overstrained," Thomas de Maiziere, Germany's interior minister, said at the meeting in Brussels. "There haven't been any huge refugee flows so far and we shouldn't talk them up."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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