Mumbai/New Delhi, Feb 28 – With India intensifying Operation Safe Homecoming, around 3,000 Indians are expected to be evacuated by two chartered ships as those who have arrived in the country have harrowing tales to tell of their escape from violence-torn Libya. A third batch of 68 Indians landed in Mumbai from Libya in a Gulf Air flight Monday morning.
Another 600 Indians will be brought back to the country on two special Air India flights in the night.
‘Two special Air India flights – AI 800 (Airbus 330) and AI 171 (Boeing 744) are on their way to Tripoli, where they arrive at mid-day today,’ the external affairs ministry said. ‘They are likely to ferry back around 600 passengers late tonight,’ the ministry added.
Giving an update of the evacuation arrangements, the largest such exercise mounted by India since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the ministry said that Indian officials were proceeding to Sicily in Italy to speed up arrangements for passenger ship La Superba’s journey to Benghazi in Libya.
‘Up to 3,000 Indian nationals, including 400 who have travelled across from Al Kufrah by road, will be evacuated by Scotia Prince and La Superba,’ the ministry said. Scotia Prince is understood to have reached Benghazi around 3 pm (local time) Monday and will return to Alexandria on Wednesday.
Rajiva Misra, India’s ambassador to Slovakia, has reached Malta to set up yet another base camp for organizing ship shuttles between Libya and Malta. An air bridge is also proposed to be set up between Malta and India to bring home Indian nationals.
With the fresh arrivals, the total number of Indians who have returned from Libya, where the revolt against the Muammar Gaddafi government has turned violent and claimed over 1,000 lives so far, has reached around 600.
The first flight, a Boeing 747, carrying 291 Indian nationals, arrived in New Delhi around on Saturday midnight. The second batch of 237 evacuated passengers, who were picked from Libyan capital Tripoli, arrived in an Airbus A330 on Sunday morning.
‘All 68 Indian nationals who had crossed over to Salloum (Egypt) reached Mumbai by GF-056 this morning,’ the external affairs ministry said.
A help desk at the airport at Mumbai has been set up by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), in coordination with the Maharashtra government and other state governments, to render all assistance to the passengers, including for further travel to their hometowns.
Another 82 Indians, who crossed over to Salloum late Sunday evening, are being being taken to Cairo and are expected to leave by a Gulf Air flight (GF-056) via Bahrain Tuesday, so as to reach Mumbai Wednesday (March 1) at 5.05 am.
The land route to Ras Jedir (Tunisia) is being put to good use by Indian nationals. According to the latest information, 378 individuals have already crossed over from Libya. The Indian embassy officials received them and assisted with their onward movement to and stay at Djerba (Tunisia). A special Air India flight is proposed to be pressed into service to fly them back to India.
Another 100 people are likely to cross over Monday.
Many of over 500 who returned from Libya Sunday had harrowing tales of suffering and killings to tell in the strife-torn country. Some said they had gone without food and water for days and vowed never to return.
Many of them had worried relatives waiting for them outside Terminal 2 of Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) in New Delhi. From being robbed to surviving without water and food for days, tales of pain, suffering – and finally rescue – rang out loud.
‘They took away all my belongings — mobile phone, money, laptop and my car. Immediately after hearing the sound of gunshots, we went under a container and stayed there for 45 minutes and somehow we escaped after that,’ said a tired looking Mohammad Sali, 63, who was working with a company as an engineer.