On Friday, April 19, the Ministry of External Affairs told Indians in Tripoli to evacuate the city and return to safety in India after reports of violence. MEA Minister Sushma Swaraj also urged people to persuade their relatives to return while flights are still operational because the Indian government may not be able to evacuate them later.
Swaraj’s advise comes on the heels of reports of mass casualties and widespread violence in Libya’s capital city of Tripoli.
“In view of the security situation in Libya, Indian citizens are advised to observe extreme caution, avoid places of fightins and be in touch with each other on WhatsApp groups already set up”, said Minister of External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.
On April 7, 15 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) officers were evacuated after violence in Libya worsened.
What’s happening in Libya?
The Libyan government and rebel forces have been clashing in episodic violence since 2011, when Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in a pan-Arab uprising dubbed the Arab Spring.
Gaddafi first seized power in 1969 in a bloodless military coup. During his 42 year rule, he aspired to bring prosperity back to Libya but instead earned the reputation of a dictator and strongman who was intolerant of dissent and criticism.
After months of civil unrest and armed resistance from Gaddafi’s forces, Libyan rebels killed Gaddafi in 2011. However, his death left a gaping power vacuum in the country.
The National Transitional Council (NTC) led the Libyan revolution and called for interim elections following Gaddafi’s assassination. In 2012, the General National Congress (GNC) beat the Muslim Brotherhood-Justice and Construction Party alliance.
However, instability has persisted as groups of rebels and militants clash over control of the country.
In April, Libyan National Army (LNA) General Khalifa Haftar tried to make a play for the capital. He ordered his troops to advance in Tripoli and launch air strikes against the UN-recognised leader Fayez al-Sarraj of the Government of National Accord (GNA).
Haftar helped Gaddafi claim power in the 1969 coup. However, after a falling out, he went into exile.
LNA is reportedly supported by Russia, Saudi Arabia,Egypt, and the UAE. GNA has also accused France of aiding Haftar, a claim that French officials deny. Other countries like Italy and the UK support the UN-recognised GNA government.
On Thursday, April 18, the GNA issued an arrest warrant for Haftar and his LNA officers. Now, reports say that US President Donald Trump is speaking to Haftar about his intentions.
BBC reports that Trump and Haftar discussed the former’s “efforts to combat terrorism and secure Libya’s oil”.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that 205 people were killed and 903 others were wounded in the violence.
What to do if you’re an Indian in Libya?
This is the second time Indians have been asked to evacuate Libya. The first was in 2011 when violence erupted following the overthrow of Gaddafi. That year, approximately 3,000 Indians were evacuated.
Swaraj said that Indians have already been removed from Libya via a “massive evacuation” and travel ban. However, over 500 nationals still remain in Tripoli.
On Twitter, Kumar provided a number of options for Indians in Libya: the Indian embassy can be contacted at 00218924201771 and 912146640. The second number belongs to Mr. Mustafa Salim.
He added that flights from Tripoli to India are operational and should be used by citizens to return to safety. Swaraj advised people to use these flights soon because “the situation in Tripoli is deteriorating fast”.
A user named Rahul said that one his relative’s friends is not being allowed to leave his workplace in Tripoli to return back to India because the employer isn’t releasing the passport. He added that 10 other Indians are also working in this same company.
The Indian Embassy in Tunisia responded to him asking him to share details of the company and contact Salim at the embassy.
She also asked Indians to urge their relatives in Tripoli to leave the city as soon as possible because the government will not be able to evacuate people later.
Swaraj has also responded to Twitter users asking for help. She also tags counselors in her tweets and addresses them by first name while asking them to help Indian nationals abroad. Her being personally available to Indians on Twitter is an effort she is known and often lauded for as MEA Minister.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius