Libyan exodus continues
The plight of Egyptian citizens stranded in Libya worsened this week after Western countries launched air strikes against the country
The coalition of Western countries that includes the United States officially began massive air strikes against the forces of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi early this week. The strikes ostensibly aim to enforce the no-fly zone imposed on Libya via UN Security Council Resolution 1973. The strikes prompted many more people to flee in search of safety.
The two first days of air strikes witnessed the exit of over 3,500 people from Libya via the Egyptian border city of Salloum: 144 were Egyptians, more than 1,500 were Libyans, the rest from different nationalities, mainly African. That number is expected to increase over the coming days. Thus authorities in Salloum increased the number of staff and that of buses, taxis and other means of transportation to cope with the influx.
At the beginning of the military strikes, Egypt's Foreign Ministry launched a warning to its citizens in Libya to be cautious, advising them to stay home and not leave it unless it was strictly necessary. It also made efforts to airlift Egyptians and other nationalities fleeing from Libya.
Mohamed Abdel-Hakam, assistant to the foreign minister for consular affairs and Egyptian expatriates, said that on Monday some 214 Egyptians who managed to escape military operations into Tunisia were airlifted home. He added that there were still another 329 Egyptians waiting in Tunisia. He did not rule out that the number could increase. However, most of the exodus comes through the Egyptian border at Salloum.
The ministry also expressed its concern about the safety of Egyptian citizens still stranded in Libya. It summoned the charge d'affairs of the Libyan embassy in Cairo on Tuesday to impress on him the importance of not exposing Egyptian citizens to any danger. The new Egyptian foreign minister, Nabil El-Arabi, also held the Libyan regime responsible for protecting Egyptians and not subjecting them to physical threat or psychological pressure.
The total number of Egyptians living in Libya was around 1.25 million. That number did not include illegal workers who did not register with the embassy. Since the eruption of the Libyan uprising, more than 190,000 Egyptians managed to return, via Tunisia by air or sea or through the port of Salloum by land.
During the early days of the uprising, the Egyptian authorities in collaboration with EgyptAir sent tens of planes to Libya and Tunisia to airlift thousands of Egyptians who were stranded. Most of them were forced to leave Libya without any of their personal belongings or savings. The last of the ships that carried Egyptians was the Turkish ship that arrived to the Mediterranean port of Alexandria Sunday. It carried some 1,150 Egyptians onboard.
The mass exodus from Libya has included many Libyans and other nationalities. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry put the number of Libyans that entered Egypt since the start of the uprising at more than 18,500, with the number of other nationalities exceeding 59,000.