Governments worldwide scrambled yesterday to get their nationals out of the chaos of Libya, as Italy warned of a “biblical” exodus of up to 300,000 migrants and anger built among trapped foreigners.
Fears of a full-scale civil war in the North African country prompted countries from Canada to China to charter ferries and planes to get their citizens to safety despite poor communication and violent clashes.
Thousands of foreigners packed Tripoli’s airport hoping to leave the widening chaos behind, with those who managed to flee describing anarchic scenes with food and water supplies running low.
As Libya’s defiant leader Muammar Qaddafi clung to power, China ramped up a massive air, sea and land operation to evacuate more than 30,000 of its citizens, with more than 4,000 transferred to the Greek island of Crete yesterday.
Thailand, which has more than 23,000 workers in Libya, said it was making preparations to get its citizens to Malta, but warned it may be safer for them to stay in their compounds than to travel to a port.
“I have received information that the route is dangerous due to looting,” Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said. “They are safe in their camps now.”
Hundreds of US nationals and other foreigners have boarded a US-chartered ferry in Tripoli, but high seas delayed their departure for Malta. The 600-passenger ferry at Tripoli’s As-shahab port was supposed to leave for Malta on Wednesday, but a spokesman for the US embassy in Malta said yesterday that bad weather made that impossible. Ferry officials said the boat would not be able to leave until today at the earliest.
Turkey evacuated upwards of 6,000 of its nationals over three days by air, sea and land in a massive operation, but thousands were still waiting to leave with an estimated 25,000 Turks based in Libya.
The logistical challenges were especially acute for Asian countries with more than 150,000 low-paid workers trapped — including about 60,000 Bangladeshis and 30,000 Filipinos.
Migrante International, a support group for overseas Philippine workers, said Filipinos had been left to fend for themselves, as Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay planned to fly to the region to review emergency plans.
Migrante chairman Gary Martinez complained that the government had “really messed up.”
“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 [yesterday], because they haven’t heard from any government official,” he said.
India said a 1,000-capacity passenger ship had arrived on the Libyan coast to begin evacuating some of its 18,000 nationals to Egypt, adding that the operation had been hampered by poor communications.
An official at the Vietnamese embassy said it was trying to get its 10,000 nationals out, but warned that they were short of food and water.
A flight from Tripoli with 150 stranded oil workers arrived in London. Britain’s government rebuffed criticisms over its rescue mission, saying it would send as many flights as necessary, possibly including military planes.
Oil worker James Coyle told BBC radio he was one of 90 Britons trapped in a desert camp among 300 people, including Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Germans, Austrians and Romanians.
“We are living a nightmare and we have asked the British government and they have just totally ignored us,” he said.