herald

Monday 21 January 2019

Ex-pats' horror as rescue plane leaves Libya without them

Irish citizens trapped in the chaos and bloodshed in Libya today spoke of their terrifying ordeal.

The hungry and exhausted ex-pats described their shock at discovering an Irish Air Corps plane had left without them.

"The airport was quite frightening as there were thousands all pushing and shoving and the airport police were pushing back. I almost got crushed several times," said one young Irish woman desperately trying to get home.

Panic spread through Tripoli airport as 15,000 attempted to flee the African state where the uprising against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi looks set to descend into civil war.

Stranded citizens told the Herald of their mounting anger against the Department of Foreign Affairs.

"Everyone was shocked and disgusted at the lack of action from the DFA in getting information to us or trying to do something to get us out," the woman added.

"I'm still at Tripoli airport - I've been here since 10am [Wednesday] morning.

"There were a few incidents in the airport too that were frightening when some people jumped over the barrier and the police (or somebody) started shouting 'everybody down, 'everybody down."

As with many of the Irish staff working in the region, she did not wish to be identified as she plans to eventually come back to Tripoli and fears that she could lose her livelihood by criticising the lack of support she and her colleagues have received.

"We've been fortunate that the last day or so the internet has been pretty stable so we've been able to contact family," a Dublin woman working in the oil industry told the Herald today. The woman initially had tickets for two commerical flights which were cancelled on Wednesday.

"So now, there are 21 of us that are rounded up to go on the Irish plane -- I'm just plain exhausted".

She recalled the horror felt when they realised the Irish Air Corp plane had left.

Empty

"The airport bus was driving around the runway for over an hour looking for the plane and we couldn't find it. When we got to the terminal we were told it had left, empty."

Some lucky Irish people managed to board a UK bound plane yesterday. Among them were a young Irish couple and their new baby who had been waiting for 12 hours. Irish passengers were hoping to get seats on a BP organised plane to Gatwick airport in the UK this morning.

"Hopefully we'll leave soon. We've had so many hopes only to have them dashed ... and all this is done on a bar of chocolate!"

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that there were about 70 Irish citizens in Libya, including 54 in Tripoli and that an Air Corp Casa aircraft, which can accommodate 21 passengers, landed at 5pm yesterday but left without anyone.

The department said that the Irish team was prevented by Libyan security from picking-up Irish nationals for four hours.

However, it has emerged that other countries -- notably France, Turkey and Russia -- went ahead with the evacuation without authorisation for the safety of their citizens.

The Irish plane is now on standby in Valetta, Malta, so that it may proceed with the evacuation today. The partner of a Tipperary woman at Tripoli airport told the Herald of his distress as he could no longer get in contact with her.

"I cannot get through to my partner and other Irish citizens since 4am," the Scotsman said.

"Two of the Irish girls gave up yesterday and headed back to their villas in Regatta [an expat compound], around 6pm yesterday as one of them was sick -- they are angry but safe."

"[Gaddafi] has been on the TV waffling on for over half an hour and it has just exploded with activity," another member of the Irish community working in the oil industry told the Herald. She described how she is hearing automatic gun fire, hand guns and fireworks.

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