500 Indians return from Libya with horror tales

New Delhi, Feb 27 (IANS) Some hugged and kissed in relief as over 500 Indians arrived here from Libya in two specially arranged flights Sunday, after days of harassment, fear and hopelessness in the north African country where a mass revolt has erupted against Muammar Gaddafi.

Many had worried relatives waiting for them outside Terminal 2 of Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) here. 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 sounds of gunshot, we went under a container and stayed there for 45 minutes. Somehow we escaped,’ said a tired Mohammad Sali, 63, who worked with a company as an engineer.

The first flight, a Boeing 747, carrying 291 Indian nationals, arrived around Saturday midnight. The second batch of 237, picked from the Libyan capital Tripoli, came in an Airbus A330 at 4.10 a.m. Sunday.

Two special Air India flights are being operated every day to bring back Indians in Libya, where escalating protests against the Gaddafi regime has turned bloody. More than 1,000 people have reportedly died in a crackdown by security forces.

Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao were at the airport to receive the evacuated Indian nationals Sunday.

Another two Air India flights are to leave for Tripoli to evacuate 500 more Indians. A Gulf Air flight with 67 Indians who entered Egypt by land will touch down in Mumbai Monday morning.

‘Many Indians are still there who have not eaten for the last four-five days. There is no facility for food, water, and the situation is really bad,’ said 27-year-old Moben Kureshi, a factory worker who was on the first flight.

The Indians thanked the authorities for bringing them back home safely but looked worried for several other countrymen still stuck in Libya.

‘People who are far off from the embassy are facing problems; they haven’t had water to drink for one week. No food supply,’ said Sajjan Lal, a doctor.

Many evacuees who had left behind their assets don’t want to go back to Libya again.

‘We left everything there and came back … had no plans to go back even if the situation gets normal,’ said a woman.

Said another passenger: ‘The trouble was mainly outside Tripoli. We were not involved in the trouble but feared it could affect us in Tripoli. We are concerned over people staying in isolated camps, provided by private companies.’

The planes arrived in Delhi at Terminal 2, the erstwhile international terminal of the IGIA currently used for special purposes like processing of Haj passengers. It has been specially leased from Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL), which operates the airport.

Minister Ahamed announced that arrangements were made for the returning Indians to be taken to their native places at government cost.

Rao told reporters she visited the airport to receive ‘our citizens’ who were returning from Libya. Overseas Indian Affairs Secretary A. Didar Singh was also present.

Officials said food had been arranged for the returning Indias. They were give facilities to telephone their families.

Counters had been set up to arrange rail and air tickets for them while representatives of at least 12 states were present for any further help.

Three Indian Navy ships have also sailed to Libya to help in the return of the 18,000 Indians in the country, while the external affairs ministry said another passenger ship, presently in the Mediterranean Sea, is being chartered for evacuation and expected to reach Libya’s Benghazi Monday.

The ships will evacuate Indians from Libya to Malta or Egypt, from where they will fly to India. The fleet is expected to reach Libya in 10 days.