“My Father Is Stuck In Libya”: Indians Wait While Authorities Delay Evacuation

Posted on February 23, 2011

By Pranay Manocha:

My dad works in Libya, as the regional director for a large Indian construction company. He’s helping Libya build new infrastructure – new townships, oil pipelines and other major projects all worth close to a billion dollars in ongoing work. He has about 3000 Indians working with him.

The recent wave of protests in the middle east have obviously shaken up many governments. As the longest serving ruler of any country right now though, Muammar Gaddafi is unique and this makes the situation in Libya particularly precarious. Over the last few days, internet access in that country has gradually been cut off and telephone access is sparse and extremely sporadic.

Foreign correspondents have been banned and there is a blackout on media coverage within Libya, so it is difficult to get confirmed reports from anyone. However, my dad has called me whenever the phone network seems to be up again so here is what I do know.

The Indian construction site where he is (a suburb of Tripoli) was visited by a mob on Sunday night. They were armed and took away mobile phones and valuables. In his words, it was “an intimidating experience” and showed just how vulnerable they all are.

Since then, cars have been burnt outside their compound and there has been incessant gunfire. Their group of 300 trekked all the way to the Indian embassy yesterday, hoping for support or sanctuary. None was provided and the embassy officials said they were helpless. Following this response, everyone went back to their site office and locked themselves in. Later yesterday, 700 more Indian workers joined them having traveled some distance from other sites close by. So, this one site where I am still hearing from, now has about 1000 Indian people at present. I am unaware of the status of the other 2000 people who work with my dad.

To make matters worse, a nearby South Korean construction site was attacked yesterday and close to 20 people were injured, so everyone feels a real risk to the lives. My dad has reported that they remain locked in and are not venturing outside as there is constant gunfire and an ever present threat of violence. In such a situation, I suppose it would not be surprising that they have a limited stock of food and water and they are possibly rationing its use.

There have been reports that Gaddafi has unleashed incomprehensible violence in response to this revolt. Several of Libya’s diplomats to various countries, including the ones to India and to the UN, have resigned in protest and have gone on record referring to this violence as a war crime and terming it genocide.

Some reports have said that fighter planes have been used to bomb and shoot civilians. Mercenaries have been flown in from different countries. Gaddafi is reportedly worth billions, so he has plenty of spare change to spend on quelling this revolt. The world has reacted with relative urgency to this. Ban Ki Moon has called the violence “a serious violation of international humanitarian law”. Britain has now placed one of its warships on standby off the coast of Libya and the NATO chief has issued a strong statement.

We Indians aspire our country to be a superpower, but this current crisis just underscores the long road we still need to travel before we can join the ranks of more developed nations.

Indian companies operate in many different countries, many with the risk of violent unrest such as Libya. Yet, neither India nor Indian companies appear to have the processes or systems in place to react to such situations. Other countries and companies have already been pulling their people out of Libya. The BBC reported this morning that Turkey had already evacuated 1000s of its citizens and 3 ships were on the way to evacuate the rest. India, however, only just appears to have agreed that an evacuation is necessary. I am sure everyone is aware of the challenges and risks that any evacuation will bring. People, including my dad, will have to leave their hideouts and make their way to a port or airport without any security cover or assurance of safety.

Other countries are already formulating a response to support the movement to install democracy in Libya, but India remains focused solely on evacuated its own citizens – and that too, hardly so.

You can contact Pranay via Twitter @PranMan.

Image courtesy: Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

IMPACT: Post publishing, Pranay’s story was shared thousands of times through various blogs and on social media. His story was telecast on NDTV and several news outfits, including CNN IBN spoke to him to get the story out. Within 24 hours, tremendous pressure was built on the Ministry of External Affairs and they had to send ships and planes to get Indian citizens back to safety. Pranay’s father, and 16000 Indians were rescued from Libya.

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