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A shelter from the Libyan storm

world Updated: Mar 02, 2011 23:44 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

Nothing quite gets the people of this island going as the thought of fellow-Brits suffering silently in that most frightening of places — the Foreign Land. Confused by the unpredictability of political contagions, the nation has been fretting over how to rescue Britons stranded in Libya.

After a delayed response in dispatching rescue planes for trapped Britons, a contrite David Cameron said: “What I’d say to those people is I’m extremely sorry — incredibly sorry.”

We hear next to nothing here about the fate of the thousands of Indians in these countries — people whose work in construction and oil helps shore up booming sectors that then service economic activity in Europe.

Therefore, Monday’s report in HT — telling the horrors of a fleeing Indian chemical engineer came as an eye-opener: the safest shelter in Tripoli, observed Mohammad Sali, was the international airport. By contrast, fleeing Britons have been describing the airport as hell on earth.

Every foreign ministry should have well laid-out contingency plans for rescuing its nationals from foreign countries, and India too has swung into action. There are 350,000 Indians in Bahrain; 14,000 in Yemen and 18,000 in Libya. But getting them out of the country is only part of the calculation. How they get to the air or sea ports is another thing entirely.

Jean-Phillipe Chauzy of the UN’s International Organization of Migration (IOM) in Geneva tells me of his experiences in Lebanon in 2006, where the major challenge was trying to evacuate female domestic workers who were illegal and therefore unregistered migrants.

Fortunately, most Indians are contracted to companies, which means they have legitimate papers. But there will be those who don’t, and they too will need rescuing.

So far, more than 100,000 migrants have escaped to Tunisia and Egypt but many thousands are stranded on Libya’s borders. Perhaps New Delhi can help in the task of evacuating other hapless South Asians, and allow hard power to buttress its soft power?