Sunday 24 September 2017

Libya: Irish evacuation efforts slammed

Irish efforts to evacuate citizens from Libya have been fiercely criticised for a second day after a teacher escaped a frightening 26-hour wait at Tripoli airport.

Claire Walsh, from Newbridge, Co Kildare, was put on a flight by Britain's Foreign Office with her boyfriend Adam Brian, from Aberdeen, who works for the Corex oil company.

The Department of Foreign Affairs had been texting the 30-year-old over the last few days but with phone signals down she did not receive messages until she landed in Malta.

A consular emergency team has arrived in the Libyan capital to assist 40 citizens - 25 in Tripoli, eight in Benghazi in the east and seven others believed to be workers with oil firms in remote desert areas.

The couple arrived at the airport at 6am on Wednesday and did not fly out until 8.30am yesterday - witnessing riots, spending hours in monsoon rain and sleeping overnight on a bus.

"It was an horrendous trip home," she said.

She added: "Thousands and thousands of people, mostly Egyptians, were trying to get in (to the terminal). There were riots and an awful lot of hassle trying to get out.

"It was heartbreaking, really heartbreaking."

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it has set up a contact point in Tripoli airport to look for Irish citizens.

A spokeswoman added: "The department is continuing to use all options available to it to assist in getting all Irish nationals out of Libya."

Ms Walsh, a geography teacher at the International School in Tripoli, claimed it had been impossible to get help from Foreign Affairs.

"When I was in Tripoli I saw Italian representatives, Ukrainian, Portuguese, Japanese, all these people managed to get somebody in and had a flag going around looking for their people," she said.

"Surely the relations between Ireland and the other countries would mean they could have someone in there acting as a reserve representative for the Irish government?

"Nobody looked for us. There was no communication with me. They did absolutely nothing to help me. They were completely useless."

Ms Walsh reported seeing squads of mercenaries, sub-Saharan Africans rather than Libyans, heavily armed and heading in to the city.

She said some sections of the Libyan authority were blaming Egyptians for the uprising and the police and army refused to let them in to the airport.

"Water and food was provided by the British Foreign Office. The only reason I got out is because I was with Adam," Ms Walsh said.

"It was the pilots and people on the ground who filled the planes and were getting people out."

Meanwhile, four Irish citizens have fled Libya on a British Navy warship, HMS Cumberland, sailing through rough seas to Malta. Another six are expected to leave on another boat.

The emergency consular team will be headed by Pat Hennessy, the Irish ambassador in Rome who is accredited to Libya. It includes an Arabic speaking official.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has claimed crew on an Air Corps plane, which flew in on Wednesday night only to leave empty, was not allowed access inside the airport terminal.

Ireland had no consular staff in the country when the crisis hit.

However, officials are said to be in contact with the seven individuals spread across more remote parts of the country, one of whom is with a group of British citizens.

It is believed they are trying to make their way to Tripoli, Benghazi and the Egyptian border.

Elsewhere, a second Government jet, the LearJet, was used to airlift a British mother and her family from Libya to Malta yesterday.

The Air Corps was deployed to Tripoli for the medical emergency evacuee who had just given birth to a baby by caesarean section. Her husband and two other children were also taken on the flight.

Press Association

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