BEIJING / SINGAPORE - A Singaporean woman and her four children who were stuck in war-torn Yemen are on their way home, after a dramatic evacuation by a Chinese naval frigate.
The Singaporean woman's brother told The New Paper Friday that Madam Sherin Fatimah Syed Abdul Ravoof, 37, and her children were given safe passage on Thursday night after an arrangement by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) with Chinese authorities.
MFA confirmed with the Straits Times Friday that Madam Sherin and her children arrived safely in Djibouti on April 2. Arrangements are being made to fly them back to Singapore, MFA added.
According to Madam Sherin's brother, Mr Nasirudheen Syed, MFA even arranged for a local shipping agent to meet Madam Sherin and children at the Djibouti port to ensure their safety.
The New Paper first reported Monday that Madam Sherin was denied entry onboard an Indian Warship due to space constraints.
Madam Sherin is married to a Yemeni national and moved to Aden only six months ago with her four children.
The Chinese naval frigate has evacuated 225 foreign citizens from strife-torn Yemen, its foreign ministry said, marking the first time that China's military has helped other countries evacuate their people during an international crisis.
Ten different nationalities were among the evacuees picked up on Thursday afternoon from Aden, Yemen's second city, and transported to Djibouti, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on its website late Thursday.
The ministry said foreign governments - Pakistan, Ethiopia, Singapore, Italy, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Britain, Canada and Yemen - had requested China's help. A spokeswoman said it was the first time China had carried out a specific evacuation of foreign nationals from a danger zone.
A diplomatic source familiar with the operation said it was"very risky" and that fighting had come close to the Chinese warship. "The Chinese ship was in the right place at the right time,"the source said.
Violence has been spreading across Yemen since last year, when Iran-backed Shi'ite Houthi fighters seized the capital, Sanaa, and effectively removed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. A Saudi-led coalition has hit the rebels with air strikes over the past week.
A state television report on Friday showed evacuees, who were mostly Pakistani, arriving in Djibouti. "We are really thankful to the Chinese government, who really helped us, and took us out (with) the school children,"one woman told China Central Television.
The broadcaster showed footage young children stepping off a Chinese warship waving Chinese flags, and in one case, kissing a seaman on the cheek.
The evacuation of foreigners bolsters China's image at home and abroad, according to Shen Dingli, an international relations professor at Fudan University in Shanghai. "We wouldn't look very good if we have the capacity to help others but no heart to do it," Shen said. "Now we look really good," he added.
China had earlier evacuated 571 of its own nationals, along with eight foreigners who worked for Chinese companies.
Once-reclusive China has become increasingly active in disaster relief and humanitarian aid abroad as its global economic interests widen."
China has been keen to learn from the experience of other countries on how to evacuate people, especially after Libya,"said one senior Western diplomat in Beijing. "It's good to see China taking more of an interest in this."
A low-key diplomatic player in the Middle East despite its reliance on oil from the region, China has voiced concern at the surge in violence in Yemen and called for a political solution.
Beijing drew international praise last year when it sent elite troops to help Ebola-hit Liberia by building a treatment centre and help transport medical supplies.
China also sent a state-of-the-art hospital ship to the Philippines in 2013 after one of the world's biggest typhoons killed thousands.