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'It took govt 7 days to start Libyan evacuation'

Last updated on: March 4, 2011 22:52 IST

'We were confined to our homes since Feb 16'

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A thousand more Indians returned from Libya in the wee hours of Friday. Some of them were happy to be safe; others disappointed at the Indian government's slow response in rescuing its people. N Ganesh spoke to them soon after they landed at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport as they recalled their tales of horror.

Fifty-four-year old Sebastine Pinto looked lost as he exited the air-conditioned foyer of Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in the wee hours of Friday. Pushing a trolley laden with bags, one of which was labelled 'Libya-Mumbai via Alexandria' he suddenly found himself ambushed by a bunch of reporters shooting a volley of questions at him. The media frenzy caught Pinto off guard, but he seemed remarkably calm as he faced the shuttebags.

Pinto is among the 1,000-odd Indians who have been evacuated from the strife-torn Libya by the government. "The situation in Libya is very unpredictable. Indians have been confined to their homes since February 16. I did not face any danger and I believe that other Indians have not been harmed as well," said Pinto, an engineer who has been working in Libya for the last one-and-a-half year.

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Image: Sebastine Pinto at the Mumbai airport
Photographs: Satish Bodas/Rediff.com
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Embassy has been quite helpful, but...

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Pinto and other Indians had set-off from Benghazi two days ago. In the first phase of their journey they sailed for 36 hours from Benghazi to Alexandria in Egypt where the Indian government had chartered flights from Egypt Air.

"The Indian embassy has been quite helpful. I had contacted them on February 22 and they extended full co-operation," said Pinto, clutching onto the Indian currency, which had been given to those rescued from Libya by the Indian government authorities for the last leg of their journey back home. But not everyone agreed


Image: A 1,000 Indians landed at the Mumbai airport from Libya
Photographs: Satish Bodas/Rediff.com
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'India took a week for evacuations from Libya, US only 2 days'

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Though the Indian authorities claim a diplomatic and logistic achievement in successfully evacuating Indians, there were many who were critical about the government's delayed response. 

"The first signs of the unrest were noticed on February 14 and within two days the US, French and other countries evacuated their citizens. It took the Indian authorities seven days to initiate the first evacuation. Till our departure from Libya we have been living in panic as we could hear gunshots outside," said 38-year-old Wilson Jetty from Andhra Pradesh, who worked as an assistant professor of English at the Garyounis University.

He also resented the fact that on landing in Mumbai the Indian authorities gave them a mere Rs 2,000 as conveyance to get to their respective hometowns.


Image: Wilson Jetty (left) along with Harold William were among the many Indians rescued from Libya
Photographs: Satish Bodas/Rediff.com
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'Bodies of Indians are lying in morgues in Libya'

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Jetty was only glad that he was not stranded in Libya with his family. "They returned to India a few months back," he said.
However, he pointed out that they are many who are still waiting to be evacuated. "There are 400 Indians employees at the Garyounis University, 1000-odd in Benghazi alone and at least 8,000 more in other parts of Libya," he said.

"We were not harmed, but were informed about three Indians who were killed and their bodies were lying in the local morgue. There were instances where rioters knocked on the doors of residential quarters of young nurses, a majority of them who are from Kerala. Fortunately, nobody was able to break in and the nurses were safe," recalled Jetty.

Image: An Indian rescued from Libya reunites with his family at the Mumbai airport
Photographs: Satish Bodas/Rediff.com
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'A civil war can break out in Libya'

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And the tales of horror continued. Said a doctor, requesting anonymity. "The situation in Libya may worsen and soon there may be a civil war."

E Mohan was happy to be back on the Indian soil, but was taken by surprise by the media attention they received. Dodging shutterbugs he rushed to his cab saying, "In some places the situation is dangerous. However, Indian expatriates are safe as they are being shielded by the locals and the police as well," he said
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Image: Most Indians who returned said they will not think of going back to Libya
Photographs: Satish Bodas/Rediff.com
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