Chaos Traps Unknown Number of Ethiopians in Libya

Absence of embassy hampers government in locating and rescuing Ethiopian citizens
Absence of embassy hampers government in locating and rescuing Ethiopian citizens

Unconfirmed numbers of Ethiopians are believed to still be stranded in Libya and awaiting rescue.

The Ethiopian government has been working for weeks to arrange for the evacuation of its citizens from the Arab states where anti-government protests have been going on, it claimed.

However, the lack of an Ethiopian Embassy in Libya appears to have hampered the task, a problem compounded by the fact that Ethiopians living abroad often do not register at embassies, according to Dina Mufti, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).

An estimated 1.5 million foreign resident, including from Djibouti, Somalia, and Eritrea, were stranded in Libya as bloody battles between protesters and loyalists to the regime carried on last week.

Around 21 countries have been scrambling to assemble planes and ships to transport their citizens from Libya since Wednesday, February 23, 2011. A total of 25,000 Turkish citizens have been evacuated by their government, while 10,000 people have been evacuated by the EU. In a show of cooperative spirit, 300 Palestinians fleeing Libya were allowed by the Israeli government to pass through its territory into Palestine.

The UK announced it might need to use Special Forces to evacuate 170 of its nationals from areas outside the main cities, Reuters reported.

Several thousands of people with dual citizenship are also fleeing from the havoc in any way they can, mostly through Egypt and Tunisia, according to different news outlets.

“The situation was pretty bad over there,” Pantelis Kimendiadis, an oil worker from Greece, told AP after disembarking from a ferry. “We heard lots of gunfire and saw many burned buildings.”

However, the Ethiopian government seems unable to locate and rescue its citizens in Libya, the number of which is not known.

“We do not have the figure for there is no permanent diplomatic resident,” Dina told Fortune. “We just have to try reaching out via other countries like Egypt and Yemen, as well as other partners.

Egypt and Tunisia have opened their borders to people fleeing from Libya.

The UNHCR is working with the two countries to set up camps for new arrivals, it said in a statement. It has dispatched flights carrying tents and other relief items for up to 10,000 people expected to have arrived in Tunisia over the weekend.

The Ethiopian embassies in Lebanon, Dubai, Kuwait, Djibouti, Egypt, and Yemen have been ordered by the government to instruct its citizens to move in groups, carry mobile phones to communicate easily, and to keep away from demonstrations, according to Dina.

“They must report to embassies or any kind of association and group they may have,” Dina said. “They should also carry food and water while moving between places.”

However, the Ethiopian Embassy in Yemen has not received any such instructions or orders, Hassen Abdella, ambassador to Yemen, told Fortune by telephone.

“We are too far from the turmoil so the embassy in Sudan may be responsible for nationals fleeing Libya,” the ambassador said.

 

Aderajew Asfaw, Addis Fortune