Thailand, Manila join hands to evacuate their citizens in Libya

Thailand, Manila join hands to evacuate their citizens in Libya
Students returning from war-ravaged Libya are welcomed by military officers at Suvarnabhumi Airport yesterday.

Thailand and the Philippines have agreed to conduct joint evacuation of their citizens in Libya, Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Puangketkeow said yesterday.

Sihasak, also the acting foreign minister, said that he had discussed with the Philippine ambassador to Thailand the joint evacuation of workers of the two countries living in Libya, the Thai News Agency reported yesterday.

There are many Filipinos working in war-ravaged Libya.

Sihasak said that more Thai workers were expected to return home this week. He said contact had been made with recruitment agencies, as three groups of Thai workers were scheduled to return home this week.

A total of 83 Thai workers are expected to leave Libya today for Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. A second group, comprising 10 workers, will leave for Cairo tomorrow while another group of 18 people will head for Cairo on Friday.

Department of Consular Affairs director-general Thongchai Chasawat said yesterday that Thais in Libya should be concerned about their safety and leave the country immediately.

Thongchai made the remarks after arriving in Tunis yesterday with officials from the Foreign and Labour ministries, in an effort to assist more Thais in Libya to evacuate to Tunisia and later leave for Thailand.

He met with the honorary Thai consul-general in Tunis to discuss how to assist Thais safely cross the border. Thongchai then travelled to Djerba in Tunisia, which is close to the Libyan border and where some Thai diplomats from Tripoli have been stationed to assist the process. He said a chartered flight would be arranged if enough Thais express their desire to return to the Kingdom.

Thongchai acknowledged that many Thais are still reluctant to leave but the Foreign Ministry's position is that they should leave Libya for the sake of their own safety. He said they should not be worried about the expenditure, as it would be covered by the ministries under a plan prepared with the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). He urged relatives of Thais staying in Libya to contact them and convince them not to take further risk by staying on in Libya.

The remark came as eight Thai students from Libya arrived safely in Bangkok yesterday on Emirates Flight EK 384.

Afdol Pannoppa, a Thai student who is studying religion at an international university in Libya since last year, was amongst the evacuees who arrived. He said it was the first time in his life to be in a conflict zone and he had to stock up food and water as shops were opened only at certain hours due to the curfew.

The student said he stayed at a dormitory near the university in Tripoli and heard gunfire intermittently. Sometimes people shouted out as if a crackdown was happening followed by sounds of heavy artillery fire.

Afdol and a few fellow-Thai students were eventually contacted by the Thai Embassy in Tripoli and they decided to seek assistance to leave the country.

He said he wished to return to Libya if the situation returned to normal to continue his studies.

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