Ship aims to rescue foreigners from Tripoli if needed

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 22, 2011 10:04 AM

GENEVA (Reuters) - A ship capable of evacuating 300 foreigners will arrive in Tripoli on Tuesday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

However, the Geneva-based IOM said on Monday, with events unfolding rapidly in the Libyan capital it was not clear if the ship would be given access to the port, or whether the potential passengers would still want to be rescued.

Libyan government tanks and snipers put up scattered, last-ditch resistance in Tripoli on Monday after rebels swept into the heart of the capital, cheered on by crowds celebrating the end of Muammar Gaddafi's 42 years in power.

Altogether more than 5,000 migrants had registered with their embassies asking to be evacuated, said the IOM.

IOM spokeswoman Jemini Pandya said the organization did not know how may have changed their minds about leaving. "If things calm down they might decide they don't want to go," she said, adding that some people might want to stick with their jobs or might have no home to go back to.

The vessel, the Tasucu, left the port of rebel-controlled Benghazi in eastern Libya on Monday. Although the boat is too small to take all potential evacuees, the IOM sent it because it was immediately available, having just finished evacuating migrants from Misrata, another rebel-held city in central Libya.

Rescued migrants are taken by road to Salloum on the Egyptian border where they are helped to return to their home countries.

"The situation is extremely fluid, not only in terms of how many people may have changed their minds about leaving, but also in terms of changing counterparts on the ground," Pasquale Lupoli, IOM Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.

"We hope that it will be allowed to dock on time for us to carry out our mission, since the control of the port has changed hands," said Pandya.

The IOM has estimated there are still more than 300,000 foreign nationals in Tripoli and said last week that it had seen a sudden rise in the numbers of people registering to leave, but had only a small window of opportunity.

Many of those who have asked to be rescued are Filipinos, Bangladeshis and Egyptians. But Pandya said many foreigners from sub-Saharan Africa lived on the outskirts of Tripoli and would find it hard to get to their embassies to register.

"In Misrata, it was as orderly as it could be given the circumstances. What's going to be difficult about this one is the fact that the migrants are scattered all over (Tripoli). We won't be able to go and pick people up," said Pandya.

"It was never going to be an easy operation."

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Mark Heinrich)