HERAKLION, Greece - China, in conducting its largest overseas evacuation, helped more than 1,100 foreigners leave Libya over the past two weeks, transporting them on chartered Greek vessels, said China's Ambassador to Greece Luo Linquan.
Calling it an act of humanitarianism, Luo said the foreigners were mainly from Greece, Italy, Poland, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Vietnam.
A total of 35,860 Chinese citizens had been evacuated from Libya as of Wednesday night, according to the Foreign Ministry. Of these, 20,745 had already returned to China, Vice-Foreign Minister Song Tao said.
Luo told China Daily that all of the about 13,000 Chinese citizens who arrived on the Greek island of Crete would have flown home by Friday.
He thanked the Greek government for its cooperation during the evacuation, especially in simplifying customs procedures, as well as the outstanding hospitality shown by ordinary Greeks.
As soon as the Chinese passengers stepped onto dry land, they were greeted warmly and provided with food and water, said Luo.
Once the maritime evacuation commenced on Feb 22, three Greek ships undertook six voyages from the Cretian capital, Heraklion, to Benghazi and Misurata, two port cities in eastern and western Libya. By Wednesday, more than 13,000 Chinese citizens had been transported to Crete.
So far, eight chartered flights have been arranged to take Chinese citizens home.
Luo said it was his solemn promise that not a single Chinese person would be left behind.
Events unfolded quickly once the full scale of the crisis became apparent. Luo recalled that on Feb 21 he received an order from the Foreign Ministry asking him to seek help from Athens to evacuate Chinese nationals from the north African country, via Crete.
Within a matter of just three hours, the Greek government had responded positively, he said.
"The quick response was crucial and we appreciate their kindness in offering help," he said.
On the morning of Feb 22, the Chinese government leased two Greek ships to sail to Libya and the vessels departed at 6:50 pm that same day. "The efficiency was unimaginable," as in normal circumstances the process should take days, said Luo.
To complicate matters, hotels on the island were closed since November and were scheduled to reopen only in April for the tourist season. However, with the help of Greek friends, 14 hotels with 7,500 beds were initially reserved for Chinese evacuees but this figure soon increased.
"During the peak of operations, we booked 20 hotels with 13,000 beds," said Luo. "This was a miracle."
Luo concluded with a Chinese saying: "A friend in need is a friend in indeed - Sino-Greek friendship withstood the test in hard times."