Nurses stuck in Libya fresh worry for govt

As fighting between militias loyal to the Libyan government and Islamist forces escalates, India remains diplomatically hard-pressed to ensure the safe return of close to 6000 Indian nationals stuck in the strife-torn country. Among those caught in the conflict, in parts of Tripoli and Benghazi in eastern Libya, are again Indian nurses mostly from Kerala.

Intense fighting in Benghazi, Libya's second city, and battles between rival militias in the capital Tripoli have pushed the country deeper into chaos after two weeks of the fiercest violence since the 2011 civil war ousted Muammar Gaddafi. At least 30 people were killed in overnight fighting on Monday as forces battled militants with rockets and warplanes for control of an army base in Benghazi.

There are around 750 Indian nurses in Libya in all. While all are said to be safe as of now, at least 80 of them have said they want to return home and are looking for help from the Indian mission in Tripoli.

Fearing another Iraq-like crisis, the government has decided to arrange air tickets for those who can't afford it even though officials admitted the situation still did not call for an evacuation like Operation Safe Homecoming witnessed in 2011 when thousands were either flown out of Libya by special Air India flights or were evacuated with help from Indian Navy.

Out of the 430 nurses employed with two hospitals in Tripoli, Al Khadra and Tripoli Medical Centre, around 100 have approached Indian officials for help. The Indian mission in Tripoli is in touch with 4500-odd Indian? nationals who have registered themselves through 62 "coordinators". Several Indian nationals have begun to return using the land route from Libya to Tunisia, said officials.

"The mission is also working with Libyan authorities to obtain necessary exit permissions for Indian nationals wanting to return.? In cases of indigent Indian nationals funds from the Indian Community Welfare Fund will be utilized to assist in facilitating their travel back to India from Libya," said an official.

The clashes in Libya which started with an attack on the airport in Tripoli on July 13 have already left 150 dead. The US has evacuated its officials from the country and France has also launched an evacuation exercise for its citizens. Britain and Germany too have issued advisories asking their citizens to leave Libya.

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