Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry discussed facilitating and speeding up the evacuation of Egyptian nationals from Libya’s neighbour to the west, Tunisia with Tunisian Prime Minister Mahdy Gomaa.
Shoukry said he was tasked by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to visit Tunisia to express appreciation of the efforts of Tunisian authorities in facilitating the return of Egyptians, a foreign ministry statement said.
Shoukry arrived in Tunisia on Monday morning and headed to Djerba International Airport to ensure that the travel of Egyptians, through the emergency airlift set up between the Djerba airport and the Cairo International airport, is regular. It is estimated that between 3,000 and 6,000 Egyptians are stuck at the Tunisia-Libya border.
The Tunisian prime minister said Tunisia is keen on providing all possible assistance and facilities to return Egyptians who are in the border area, adding that Tunisian authorities have issued the instructions to provide the buses and the possibility of using more Tunisian airports, including the Gabès airport. Gomaa stressed that there was coordination between Tunisian and Libyan authorities to speed up the process of crossing from the Libyan to the Tunisian side of the border.
After the Egyptians have crossed to the Tunisian side of the Ras Jdeir border crossing, which lies on the Tunisian-Libyan border, they were be taken by bus to the Djerba airport. They were then flown back to Egypt, free of charge. Priority to cross the border is given to children, women and the elderly. By Saturday, over 1,100 Egyptians have been evacuated through the emergency, active since Thursday.
Minister of Civil Aviation Hossam Kamal said earlier this week that Egypt’s national flight carrier, EgyptAir, has allocated four planes to transfer Egyptians fleeing Libya.
On Sunday, Egypt’s Ambassador to Tunisia Ayman Musharafa said: “Egypt will spare no effort to evacuate” them, Tunisia’s state-run agency WAT said.
Shoukry will afterwards go to the Ras Jdeir border crossing to check on the level of care provided to Egyptians on both sides of the border. The Tunisian Red Crescent has distributed aid to them and the Egyptian army sent an aid shipment of food and medical supplies.
A newly-formed national committee, tasked with looking into the conditions of Egyptians residing in Libya, has decided it will remain in permanent session to oversee the evacuation process. Around 1.6 million Egyptians work in Libya.
Heavy fighting has dominated Tripoli and Benghazi for the past three weeks. A deadly standoff between rival militias at the Tripoli Airport led to its closure since 13 July and prompted the evacuation of the United Nation’s staff from the country shortly afterwards.
Violence has repeatedly surged and died down in Libya after the overthrow of former president Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed by militants in October 2011. However, the violence drastically escalated in 2014 when retired General Khalifa Haftar launched a campaign in May to root out “terrorism” in the coastal city of Benghazi.
The authorities have denounced his actions, labelling him an outlaw.
Violence in Libya has been a major concern for its neighbours. On 14 July, Libya’s neighbours decided to form a security committee and a political committee to offer the troubled country suggestions to end its crisis.
On Sunday, Amr Moussa, former head of the constituent assembly, which drafted the constitution, said the situation in Libya is big source of concern for Egypt. He called for a broad discussion on the issue to make the public “aware of potential risks” and to “build the necessary support in case Egypt has resort to the right to self defence”.