Wed, March 09, 2011
China > China & World > Chinese nationals in Libya evacuated

Relieved evacuees recall dramatic escape from chaos in Libya

2011-03-09 00:52:58 GMT2011-03-09 08:52:58(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

by Xinhua Writer Xu Lingui

BEIJING, March 8 (Xinhua) -- Construction worker Dai Huidong wrote a will during a desperate night when he thought he would never make it home from Libya.

"Injured and tired, I felt extremely depressed in a crammed motel room. Outside, the sound of shooting and shouting went on and on," Dai said. "I could not sleep. I thought I was about to die. In the middle of the night, I got up and wrote a few lines on paper, hoping my family would learn what happened to me eventually," he added.

Dai was one of 35,860 Chinese citizens stranded in Libya when violent protests caused chaos in the North African state in mid-February. All citizens have safely returned home in a swift, highly efficient and orderly evacuation, the largest such operation conducted by the Chinese government in history.

Dai said that he was working on a Chinese-run campus project in the eastern city of Tobruk. Armed rioters looted the construction site on Feb. 19 as Tobruk, similar to other Libyan cities, descended into near anarchy.

On Feb. 21, Dai's employer -- China Building Technique Group Co., Ltd. -- was ordered to evacuate its Chinese staff from Libya with the help of the Chinese Embassy in Tripoli. Dai and 82 workers were transported by a van to Egypt before being flown to China.

Dai was among the last in his group to flee because he was injured in the leg.

"I needed help walking. Without the support of the government, I might have had no chance to escape," Dai told reporters at his home in Changshu City, eastern Jiangsu Province.

"I was in tears when the chartered plane touched down on Beijing International Airport," he said.

China's largest ever evacuation involved 91 domestic chartered flights, 12 flights by military airplanes, five cargo ferries, one escort ship, as well as 35 rented foreign chartered flights, 11 voyages by foreign passenger liners and about 100 bus runs, the Foreign Ministry said after the nine-day operation ended on March 5.

All Chinese citizens in Libya who wanted to return to China, and whose whereabouts were known -- about 35,860 people -- have been evacuated from the African country, the ministry said.

Most of the Chinese nationals were working on Chinese-run projects and businesses in Libya.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, about 75 Chinese companies were operating 50 projects in Libya. Further, at least 27 Chinese construction sites or camps had been attacked and robbed before the evacuation.

Aside from China, countries around the world sent planes and warships to bring back their citizens starting in mid- February. However, logistics posed a challenge for a number of Asian countries.

Feng Yu, 34, the director of a project run by the Hunan Province-based Tianying Construction Co., Ltd. in Libya, said that construction workers from India and Bangladesh admired the Chinese government's efficient and orderly evacuation operations.

"They were largely left to fend for themselves, having to walk to cross the border amid shooting and riots," Feng said. "Chinese citizens were well taken care of. The government returned us in trucks, accommodated us in five-star hotels on the way, and helped us process all documentation."

"We were almost driven to go crazy. Without the help of the government, many of us would have collapsed and remained stranded," he said.

Almost all Chinese companies halted their operations in Libya and it remains unclear whether the operations -- some of which are valued at millions of U.S. dollars -- would continue.

Yang Xueliang, a project director of Sinohydro Bureau 2 Co., Ltd in Libya, said Chinese projects were welcomed by Libyans as some local residents sent the evacuees off with milk, fruits, and paper boards with words "Don't leave. We hope you can stay on."

But for some of the evacuees, the traumatic experience has put an end to the thought of working abroad, despite the high pay.

"I was afraid that I might die before I could bring the money back. It is not worth it," said Xiong Xueyin, 27, who went to work on a Chinese construction project in Libya last December as his first overseas job. "It is a relief that we are all safely back."

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