Over 2,000 Indians are in urgent need of evacuation from Libya, where they are stuck with no proper access to food or healthcare. They say that they want to return home as they do not feel safe in Libya, that many of them have died of hunger, and that they have been trying to return since 2013, but that they are yet to receive help from the Indian government. The Indian government, however, says that it is trying to “persuade” the Indian nationals stuck in Libya to return. An official communiqué from the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, issued on 23 December 2015, stated: “3,600 Indians have been evacuated from Libya so far. These evacuations were facilitated through land, air and sea, with the assistance of countries neighbouring Libya. An estimated 2,000 Indians still remain in Libya. We keep a close watch on the situation in Libya and our Mission continues to make efforts to “persuade” the remaining Indian nationals to return to India.”
The exit visas of these people, which are to be issued by the host country, Libya in this case, are not being processed by the Libyan government since the Indians do not have the money to pay the exit visa penalty. The Indian workers, who have been abandoned by their contractors, have been approaching the Indian missions in Tripoli since 2013, but have not got any respite. These workers include those who were not paid their salaries for months, those who lost their jobs and those who want to return to India due to the heightened civil war there and violence by ISIS. They were rehabilitated to camps in Tripoli from across Libya with the promise of relief from the Indian and Libyan governments in 2011. Some were evacuated, but many still remain behind. The 3,600 who were evacuated had paid their exit visa penalties.
Hundreds of Indian workers were left in limbo when an Indonesian construction company, CKG, hired by a Libyan government agency, Organization for Development of Administrative Centers (ODAC), stopped paying salaries to Indian workers between 2011 and 2013.
“When I wanted to leave for India, the construction company CKG refused to hand over my salary or my passport to me. Anyhow, some of us managed to book tickets back home, but they deducted our salaries from our accounts saying that we were breaking the contract. The company fired me along with 700 other workers, most of whom were Indians and some were from Pakistan and Indonesia. We had no money or food. We begged on the streets for months before being rehabilitated to Tripoli in camps. There are still over 2,000 Indians staying in five rehabilitation camps in Tripoli. Our exit visas are not being processed. The Indian government has not sent any help to us and we do not know what will happen to us,” Shail Hussein, a structural engineer who had moved to Libya for a construction project, told The Sunday Guardian over telephone from Tripoli.
“We do not want to stay here and die. It seems the Indian government will rather see either the bullet or hunger kill us than rescue us. Many Indians here have died of hunger. Several have been kidnapped by ISIS forces. Nobody is bothered. There was an understanding between the Indian and Libyan governments that the exit visa penalty that the contractors were supposed to pay on behalf of the poor workers would be waived. This has not happened yet. The contractors are not paying anything to anyone. We were assured by the Libyan agency ODAC that they would pay us our wages directly instead of it coming through the employers, but that was not the case as well,” added Shail Hussein.
“I was rehabilitated from Tarahunah to a camp in Tripoli in December 2013. Thousands of people were lodged in camps after we tried to leave the country when the civil war intensified here. The ISIS crossed into Libya and started mass murders. To add to our pain, we were not paid our salaries for six months and were only given meals during work hours. The Indian embassy, which had promised to get my exit visa penalty waived by the Libyans, is yet to do so. I have visited the embassy 35 times in the last one year,” Shail Hussein said.
Indian officials working at the Indian embassy in Tripoli say that the Libyan government is offering no help to the citizens and also creating roadblocks in letting the visa process cleared.
“The government has previously sent many officials from New Delhi to negotiate the evacuation of Indian nationals. However, the Libyan government has offered no help. Recently, ISIS activities in Libya have increased alarmingly. Also, with no food or even a semblance of hope in their eyes, it is critical that these people are given a safe passage to India. People in Delhi need to act quick. We cannot afford an Iraq-like situation here where people are kidnapped and killed by ISIS jihadis,” Ashok Balooni, a senior official at the Indian embassy in Tripoli, told this newspaper.
ISIS operations have also increased in Libya over December 2015. This has left many in Tripoli worried about the safety of Indian nationals stranded there.
“The situation is explosive. The ISIS captured the ancient (city of) Sabratha last month. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye towards even one of our own,” Balooni said.
When contacted, officials of the Libyan embassy in Delhi refused to speak on the matter.