Foreigners Flee Libya, If They Can

A massive exodus of foreigners from Libya is taking place. This weekend in Benghazi, ferry boats from Tunisia came to pick up North African nationals and take them out of Libya. But left behind were Africans and Asians, who begged for someone to help evacuate them.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Tens of thousands of people are fleeing the country. Nearly 16,000 Chinese have been evacuated; the British government says 150 Britons have been picked up in the Libyan desert by special forces and taken out of the country; at least 38,000 foreign nationals have crossed the border into neighboring Tunisia.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has this report from the eastern port city of Benghazi where ships are arriving to take some away and leave others behind.

(Soundbite of people talking in foreign language)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Frantic Tunisians, Moroccans and Algerians scramble onboard a Tunisian ferry docked in Benghazi's port. Dumping their luggage in the cargo hold, they climb to the upper decks, waving and shouting in relief of being rescued.

Salah Aboud is a Tunisian oil worker.

Mr. SALAH ABOUD (Oil Worker): (Through Translator) The company decided to close the petroleum field. My friends are really worried and they asked me to go back home.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Aboud says he's been well treated in Libya since the uprising began. He supports the revolution here, he says, because it was inspired by events in his native Tunisia.

Not everyone who wants to leave though can. The ship's chief mate, Moez Jawadi, says they are only allowing some onboard this Tunisian vessel.

Mr. MOEZ JAWADI (Chief Mate): We only deport in Tunisia. After that Nigeria or Morocco - no Africa, no Africa. We are not allowed to give them onboard. No African onboard.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Standing next to the ship is Ghanaian Ibrahim Isshaq. He's had a totally different experience in this revolution. He says that many sub-Saharan Africans were attacked and killed.

Mr. IBRAHIM ISSHAQ: So, I want to run for my life. People start to rob the people. They're going after us with guns. They took our property. So, we want to leave.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says because of the rumors of African mercenaries being shipped into quell the uprising in the east, some Africans have been targeted by protesters. Isshaq recounts how looters swept through the German construction company compound where he worked during the unrest. Everything was stolen, including the company cars, he says. Every night, the workers would run into the desert to avoid detection, he says. They slept rough, keeping a watchful eye out for attackers. He says it was terrifying and exhausting. He's lived in Libya for 12 years but:

Mr. ISSHAQ: Enough is enough. Enough is enough. I don't think I'm back to Libya because this is time to leave the country, yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But he's still waiting for someone to let him on a boat - and he's not alone. There are Ethiopians and Bangladeshis who are stuck at the port as well. They have little food and no idea when they might be able to leave. Some have been sleeping here for days. In Bangladesh, families and relatives protested in the capital to demand their loved ones' quick repatriation.

Momagia is from Bangladesh.

You want to leave and you have no one to take you.

MOMAGIA: I want to go my own country, not stay here. Because all time I feel frustration. I want to go my own country. I want to see my family, brother, sister, mother, mother, so as soon as possible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Please help us, he asked. We just want to go home. But for another night they huddled in a warehouse by the dock in the cold weather waiting to leave Libya.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Benghazi.

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