600 Thais flown back, 300 still in Egypt

More than 600 Thais have been evacuated from Egypt on flights arranged by the Thai government.

Another 300 Thais still remain on Egyptian soil as some have changed their minds about returning.

With the number of returnees lower than expected, a C130 military aircraft of the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) flew back to Thailand without any passengers.

"Our aircraft waited for passengers at the airport in Dubai and left only after we were assured there were no more Thais wishing to fly back to Bangkok," RTAF spokesman Monthon Satchukorn said yesterday.

According to the Foreign Ministry's deputy permanent secretary Nuttavudh Photisaro, up to 704 Thais initially expressed a wish to return to Thailand. However, the number of passengers later dropped by several dozen.

Nattavudh said the C130 from Thailand was instructed to wait until the very last minute the approved flight permit would allow. It finally took off from Dubai at 1.30pm yesterday.

The first flight with Thais airlifted from Egypt, meanwhile, landed at Don Mu-eang Airport in Bangkok at 2.10pm yesterday afternoon. It carried 368 people.

Immigration officials were on hand to facilitate their entry. Health check-ups were also available for those who needed them.

The Bangkok Mass Transit Authority had 15 buses ready to transfer the arriving passengers to bus terminals or temporary shelters. Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt showed up at the airport to ensure the services ran smoothly.

Two other flights carrying 260 Thais from Egypt in total were due to arrive at Don Mueang Airport at 10pm last night.

Prime Minister and Defence Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said it was the government's duty to take care of Thais' safety, no matter where they were.

She said the Thai embassy in Egypt would open its doors to Thais around the clock and a "war room" was operating in Bangkok to facilitate co-ordination among all parties concerned.

Nattavudh convened a meeting yesterday of agencies such as the Public Health Ministry, the Social Development and Human Security Ministry and the Transport Ministry.

The Office of Higher Education Commission (Ohec) has set up a special centre to provide help for Thai students who had to abandon their courses in Egypt.

"The centre will help transfer their course credits from the Egyptian higher-educational institutes to Thai institutes here," Ohec secretary-general Apichart Jeerawut said.

He said most Thai students in Egypt had been studying Islamic Studies and Islamic Law.

"These courses are also available in Thailand-based institutes such as Prince of Songkla University's Pattani Campus, the Princess of Naradhiwas Univer-sity, the Yala Rajabhat Univer-sity and the Yala Islamic University," he said.

Apichart said Ohec would also try to negotiate with scholarship grantors to ask them to continue providing scholarships to the Thai students who had to leave their study in Egypt.