Thanks to friendly multinational efforts, thousands of stranded Egyptians who fled the violence in Libya have been sent home onboard civil and military aircraft and ships, Amirah Ibrahim reports
Egyptians who have fled the fighting in Libya and crossed into Tunisia have returned to Egypt, as have all Egyptians who sought refuge in Algeria.
Over 10 days, both Cairo International Airport and Alexandria harbour had acted as main hubs, receiving Egyptian evacuees who had been stranded in Tripoli Airport and the Tunisian-Libyan border for three weeks.
As of Tuesday evening and since the onset of the Libyan uprising 170,000 Egyptians had been evacuated from Libya via planes, ships and through Egypt's Salloum border crossing. The Egyptian government used the national carrier, EgyptAir, a state-owned airline, to airlift Egyptians from Libyan airports to Cairo. But the fighting in Libya severely damaged Benghazi Airport, forcing Egyptian workers to go to the Salloum border point in cars and trucks.
"We had been limited by Libyan authorities to operate a certain number of flights to Tripoli Airport because people of many nationalities rushed to the airport to escape the deteriorating situation," Hussein Massoud, chairman of EgyptAir Holding Company, said. "But as the situation became worse, thousands fled to Tunisia and we operated around 26 flights daily to Tripoli and Djerba airports. Concerning the number of Egyptians stranded at the Tunisian border and in Tripoli, the help of friendly governments appeared necessary," added Massoud.
Egypt has the largest expatriate community in Libya, with around 1.5 million working in the country.
The British government helped in repatriating Egyptians in Tunisia through a company which organised humanitarian flights for the UK Department for International Development. Air Partner, which brokers charter aircraft, said it would repatriate as many as 6,000 displaced Egyptians.
It said it has been organising charter flights from Djerba, Tunisia, to Cairo using the 165-seat MD83 and 280-seat Boeing 767. Some of the aircraft are undertaking several rotations a day.
"Our teams around the world have been working tirelessly for several weeks to rescue expatriate personnel," stated Air Partner CEO Mark Briffa.
Four more US military flights were headed to Cairo from Tunisia on Sunday, evacuating more Egyptians. The first of the C-130 cargo planes landed in Cairo, carrying 82 passengers. Two more planes were en route with 90 and 72 passengers, respectively. The fourth plane was yet to depart from Tunisia. US military planes carried out similar evacuations on Saturday, returning passengers to Egypt.
Figures by Cairo International Airport show that around 103,000 evacuees had been sent back home by air. The rest fled mainly through the Salloum border point and by ship.
On Tuesday, five ships arrived in Alexandria carrying 1,394 Egyptians coming from Tripoli.
Sources at Alexandria Port said that two frigates and a ship belonging to the German navy, arrived carrying 412 Egyptians. Two other Egyptian ships carrying 982 Egyptians had also arrived at the port.
On Monday, two Turkish boats arrived at Alexandria airport carrying 1,156 Egyptians from Tripoli as part of Turkey's efforts to assist nationals of other countries stranded in Libya amid a violent uprising.
The Alexandria-bound Samsun ferry left Tripoli on Friday with 1,076 Egyptians, accompanied by the frigate TCG, Gelibolu for security reasons, which carried an additional 81 Egyptians.
Top military navy commanders and Alexandria airport officials welcomed the returnees, facilitating entrance procedures. Turkish ambassador to Cairo, Hussein Butsal and a Turkish delegation joined the Egyptians at the port.
"No custom fees are to be imposed on the accompanying luggage, whatever the value," explained Alexandria airport custom manager Safwat Hassanein. "A list including the names of all evacuees was prepared while they were aboard the ships coming from Tunisia so that all security measure and procedures were finished before they reached the port. This helped hundreds of returnees leave the port quickly," Hassanein added.
The Armed Forces provided dozens of buses to transport the returnees from Alexandria to their residence governorates in the Delta and Upper Egypt.
But as the battles between rebel forces and Muammar Gaddafi's armed brigades continued in a number of Libyan cities, more than 10,000 Egyptians are expected to cross Libyan-Tunisian borders every day.
The Egyptian government said it had positioned a team at the Tunisian- Libyan border, Djerba airport, and the port of Zarzis in anticipation of the arrival of any Egyptians crossing the border seeking to be evacuated.
"We have prepared a contingency plan to transfer Egyptians over the coming period," Massoud said. "We will keep the operation to Tunisia's Djerba airport flexible to help the evacuees. Operations to Tripoli will be maintained just as high to help Egyptians go directly to avoid crossing the borders to Tunisia which is unsafe."