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Asia plans mass rescue of citizens from Libya

NEW DELHI, Feb 23 – Asian nations on Wednesday prepared evacuation plans for tens of thousands of migrant workers living in Libya, where many are employed as low-paid labourers on construction sites.

"Arrangements for air and sea evacuation of our nationals from Libya are being finalised," Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters in New Delhi late Tuesday.

"This is going to be quite a mammoth operation. We will have to not only put in place arrangements for aircraft or ships, but also obtain permission from Libyan authorities for our aircraft to land there."

About 18,000 Indians are thought to be living in Libya, with 3,000 reported to be in the violence-hit city of Benghazi working at automobile companies and hospitals.

Rao said a passenger ship that could carry 1,000 people was currently in the Red Sea and directions had been given for it to stay in the area.

Bangladesh, an impoverished country that relies on income sent home from workers employed abroad, said it was looking at evacuating options for the huge number of its citizens in Libya.

"Our primary concern is the safety and security of the up to 60,000 Bangladeshi workers who are in Libya," foreign secretary Mijarul Quayes told reporters.

"Evacuation is an option. The Bangladesh government has put this option on the table. We will do everything we can, whatever it takes, to ensure the safety and security of our workers, but the situation is very, very volatile."

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"If possible, we will repatriate all of our workers to Bangladesh."

Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have both contacted the International Organisation on Migration (IOM) to seek help on evacuation plans.

"We don\’t have aircraft to bring them back, so we asked the IOM," Sri Lanka\’s deputy external affairs minister Neomal Perera said. "We are also talking with ambassadors from friendly countries to get their assistance.

About 1,200 Sri Lankans are officially registered as working in Libya, though the true number is thought to be higher.

Nepalese officials in Kathmandu said they were looking at plans to evacuate about 2,000 citizens.

Elsewhere in Asia, China has said it will send a jet, ships and fishing vessels from nearby waters to violence-wracked Libya on Wednesday to help evacuate more than 30,000 Chinese living there.

A chartered Air China jet was to leave Beijing on Wednesday for Athens, as the Chinese government awaits permission to land in the north African country, where hundreds have been killed in an uprising against leader Moamer Kadhafi.

The government has set up an emergency centre headed by Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang to coordinate the evacuation of Chinese nationals, as well as those from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The State Council, or cabinet, "decided to immediately deploy chartered civil aircraft, COSCO cargo ships in nearby waters, and Chinese fishing vessels carrying needed living and medical supplies", the ministry said.

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China will also look to hire "nearby large-scale passenger cruise ships and buses" to help in the evacuation effort, it added.

A spokesman for China\’s embassy in Libya, Du Minghao, said dozens of Chinese citizens had been injured since the unrest broke out about a week ago. Fifteen of them were hospitalised, the spokesman told the China Daily.


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