New Delhi: Two special Air India flights carrying around 600 Indians fleeing violence-torn Libya arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi in the early hours Tuesday to an emotional homecoming.
Most Indians had harrowing tales to recount of being without food and water for days or their belongings snatched in Libya where thousands of anti-government protesters are demanding the ouster of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Tuesday’s flights were part of India’s Operation Safe Homecoming to bring back its citizens from the north African country.
Both the special Air India flights from Tripoli – Airbus A-330 and Boeing 747 – arrived at Terminal 2 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport, an official said.
The Airbus A-330 had 266 passengers, while the Boeing 747 had 331 passengers.
Civil Aviation and Overseas Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi said: “We’ll make this effort to continue till the last person to come back to India and everybody is talking very high of the efforts of the Indian Embassy in Tripoli.”
“The ministry of external affairs and minister for overseas affairs, civil aviation, all working together, you can see a team, all the officers working here and we will continue to do this effort till everybody has come back.”
Many passengers who arrived Tuesday spoke about the harrowing conditions prevailing in Libya, especially for foreigners.
A woman passenger said: “Nowadays conditions are very bad (in Libya). Tanks and arms and ammunitions everywhere. Anytime blood… firing is going on.”
“All the shops are closed, schools, everything is closed. So, we were very tensed and since the last week we were staying at home only.”
Around 3,000 Indians are expected to be evacuated by two chartered ships in the next few days, while a third batch of 68 landed in Mumbai in a Gulf Air flight Monday.
Meanwhile, another 18 more Indians were expected to cross over to Salloum (Egypt). They would be sent to Cairo for taking commercial flights back to India.
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.
Operation Safe Homecoming is a multi-pronged operation the Indian government has launched to evacuate most of 18,000 Indians stranded in Libya. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said the government has so far evacuated nearly 1,000 Indians from the oil-rich north African country.
Some 1,200 people would be evacuated anytime now by an Indian ship which would dock at the Libyan port city of Benghazi Monday.
In 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.
“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 and will return to Alexandria Wednesday.
Rajiva Misra, India’s ambassador to Slovakia, has reached Malta to set up yet another base camp for organising 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.
India has also sought the permission from the Libyan authorities to fly its aircraft to the southwestern city of Sabha to evacuate Indian nationals stranded there.
India’s ambassador to Libya (Mani Mecklai) has sought permission to land aircraft in southwestern city of Sabha, Nirupama Rao told reporters on the sidelines of a function in New Delhi.
Around 1,000 people, including Indian doctors and their families, are said to be residing in Sabha, located around 1,200 km from Libyan capital Tripoli, and had requested the Indian government to make arrangements for their evacuation from the airport in central Libya.
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.
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 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.
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.