Foreign and Military Affairs

Chinese in Greece relieved to be out of Libya

Updated: 2011-02-27 08:30

By Fu Jing (China Daily)

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HERAKLION, Greece - He worried for almost two weeks as he tried by every means to contact his beloved wife in their hometown in Anhui province. Finally, construction worker Ling Qinghao got a message through from this warm holiday resort: He is safe.

"She is thrilled and is crying," said the 44-year-old Ling, one of the 4,500 Chinese evacuees from Libya who arrived in the Greek port Heraklion on the island of Crete on Thursday. Now they have settled down in a local five-star hotel thanks to comprehensive arrangements by the Chinese government.

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By Saturday, three ships had arrived on the island of Crete and two more will be arriving on Sunday. The total number of Chinese evacuees here will surpass more than 10,000.

Like Ling, many Chinese nationals in Libya had lost contact with their loved ones for days due to the ongoing riots. And after their arrival, they lined up to use the free mobile phones offered by the Chinese government to reconnect with their families.

After the uprising in Libya, the situation there has been worsened, according to Ling. "Luckily, they (robbers) generally don't hurt us if we give them whatever they want," said Ling.

Chinese in Greece relieved to be out of Libya

A Chinese national evacuated from Lybia via a Greek ship Hellenic Spirit eats fruits during his meal on Feb 26, 2011. [Photo/Xinhua]

To ensure safety, his company had divided the workers into two groups, with one group keeping watch and the other resting. "But the most painful thing was that we could not be connected with the family," said Ling. "And now we are all relieved of that burden."

Two Greek ships, Hellenic Spirit and Olympic Champion, which were chartered by the Chinese government, reached the port of Benghazi in northern Libya to collect the Chinese and after nearly 13 hours of sailing, they arrived at the port of Heraklion on Thursday.

In order to avoid injuries during the evacuation of so many people, Chinese diplomats aboard the two ships contacted Chinese companies in Libya and arranged for the evacuees to be organized into groups of 50 people. Each group would move together all the time until they returned to China.

As many waited in line for their turn to call, Ling asked her wife Zhou Qun to call the families of his six fellow colleagues who were together in Libya and had now arrived on Crete island.

While some are eager to fly back to rejoin their families, one middle-aged worker, Sun Yichao, has started to enjoy the scenery of this Mediterranean island. After calling his family, he was taking photos of the beautiful garden in front of the hotel.

"Now we have all calmed down after letting our families know that we are in a safe place," said Sun, from Tianjin. "But when we were in Libya, our heart was always beating in these worrying days." Sun said his construction company had forged a good relationship with the local community, but the riots spoiled that.

Now, the Chinese government is arranging flights to take its nationals back to China. The old, women, kids and people who are sick and injured were at the top of the list to take the first flight, which took off Saturday afternoon.

"I am not in a rush and I will wait for my turn," said Sun.

Local people said the evacuation was phenomenal. And in the history of this island, the people have never seen so many Chinese. In this bleak wintertime, there are just around 200 people in the town of Stalis to maintain the hotels and other holiday facilities. But when the Chinese evacuees swarmed in, the hotel bosses smiled.

Currently, the Chinese government has booked up to 10 hotels with 6,500 beds in several towns on this island.

"I hope they can stay longer and I love Chinese people who helped us when we are in difficulty," said Nikos Halkiadakis, who owns two five-star Cactus hotels on Crete island. The two hotels have hosted more than 1,000 Chinese.

Shortly after the visitors arrived, the hotels set up Internet accesses and offered Chinese TV channels for the evacuees. Now, those who have computers can chat online with their families and relatives. And some local people even stepped up to help them change their Libyan pounds into euros.

The Chinese government is now mobilizing more diplomats and Chinese patriots in Europe to assist in the evacuation and help take care of their fellow citizens in Crete. So far, there is not a complete schedule for sending all of them back to China.

"The prompt response of Greek government officials to the Chinese request for the rental of Greek vessels to support the evacuation of Chinese nationals from Libya via Greece shows the comprehensive strategic partnership and friendship of the two countries," China's ambassador to Greece, Luo Linquan, told Xinhua Wednesday night, noting that Greek foreign ministry officials were very cooperative.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou contacted the regional governor of Crete by telephone and requested the best possible support services for Chinese nationals, added Luo. The premier later presided at a preparatory meeting ahead of the arrival of the first Chinese evacuees to Crete.

Nearly 16,000 Chinese citizens were evacuated from Libya by 2 pm on Saturday, Xinhua quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying. They have arrived or are on their way to third countries, and about 700 people were back to China.

The ministry said relevant departments of the Chinese government and Chinese embassies are coordinating chartered planes and commercial flights to send those temporarily accommodated people back to China as soon as possible.

On Saturday morning, Air China and China's Hainan Airlines sent one chartered plane separately to the Crete Island. Two chartered planes of China Eastern Airlines took off for Malta and one chartered plane of Southern Airlines took off for the island of Djerba to pick up those evacuated.


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