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Home thoughts after journey out of danger

Updated: 2011-03-03 07:21
By Fu Jing ( China Daily)

Well-orchestrated efforts guarantee smooth evacuation from Libya, Fu Jing reports in Heraklion, Greece.

Home thoughts after journey out of danger

An airport security offi cial walks by a China Air Force IL-76 transport aircraft after it landed in Khartoum, Sudan, on Tuesday, en route to Libya. Four military transport planes have been sent to bring home Chinese nationals trapped in the strife-torn country. [Photo/Agencies]

Yang Jiaqi, 22, was afraid to tell her parents the truth.

A rebellion in Libya, where she worked as an Arabic interpreter, was turning into widespread chaos. She could hear gunfire. Robbers were targeting the camp where she lived.

"I don't want them to worry about me," said Yang, whose parents live in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

But Yang is safe now, after a day-and-a-half voyage to Crete island in China's largest-ever evacuation of its citizens from a hazardous situation overseas.

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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday in Beijing that nearly 32,000 citizens had already been evacuated to Greece, Tunisia, Egypt and Malta or were en route back to China. About 3,000 Chinese people remained in Libya but would be moved out soon. (In comparison, China evacuated 1,848 citizens from Egypt during the unrest surrounding the departure of president Hosni Mubarak.)

Yang and 2,140 other Chinese citizens were weary Wednesday morning when they walked off the Greek ferry Venizelos. Their trip was the last from the Mediterranean port of Misurata, Libya's third-largest city, following the departure of more than 4,000 Chinese aboard two large vessels.

It was scary

They had been ready to leave.

About a week earlier, Yang's employer - Tianjin-based Zhongjiao Construction Co, which was building 5,000 apartments for Libyans - ordered all workers to stay inside their camps near the construction sites in Misurata. The city is now basically controlled by forces opposing Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi.

The camps closed their heavy, reinforced gates, and male employees were divided into groups to patrol around the clock. They were ready when robbers approached, and they defended the camp by berating the wrongdoers. Most of the time, it worked.

Home thoughts after journey out of danger

It didn't hurt that the company had more than 1,000 construction workers. "The sheer size of my strong colleagues frightened those small groups of robbers," Yang said.

She was one of about 20 women working at the company. Once riots broke out in Libya, they were housed in the center of the camps with special protection. "But we could not sleep at night and just stayed on the beds in our clothes," Yang said. They were disturbed by hovering helicopters, gunfire and bombings. It has been the same in many cities in Libya.

Critical logistics

The successful rescue of Yang's co-workers and thousands of others was the result of coordinated action that began about 10 days ago. "We have to try every means that works to pave the way for evacuation," said Mei Hongbin, an experienced diplomat in China's Libyan embassy.

First, diplomats contacted Chinese companies operating in Libya. The stranded citizens were organized into groups of 50, each with a team leader, that would stay together until their return home. Individuals or people working for small companies were asked to join a large group such as Yang's.

Flight access amid Libya's chaos was limited, so China determined to move its people to safety largely by sea and land. But communication services were out in some regions, and port services had been idled since the unrest boiled over. Mei was able to persuade the port authorities of Misurata to reopen the port for the Chinese

Three large Greek ships - Hellenic Spirit and Olympic Champion, each capable of carrying 1,850 passengers, and Venizelos, built for 2,500 passengers - were chartered by the Chinese government and sailed an evacuation relay from Misurata, in the west, and the eastern port of Benghazi to Crete.

At the operation's peak, more than 15,000 Chinese took rest temporarily on Crete. They're being transported out on five or more flights a day. It is estimated that all will be back in China by March 10.

Home thoughts after journey out of danger

Chinese evacuees on the Hellenic Spirit watch Vietnamese nationals prepare to board in Benghazi, Libya, on Saturday. Nearly a thousand people from Vietnam and Bangladesh were given passage out of Libya aboard Hellenic Spirit and Olympic Champion, two of the Greek ships chartered by the Chinese government.[Photo/Xinhua]

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