The past two days have been pretty stressful – my dad works in Libya (oil & gas) and as events escalated across Libya, it suddenly became plain that my dad needed to leave the country sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately he missed the boat, literally. He didn’t head off to Malta with his colleague on Monday, and due to a change in employer, was not with his other colleagues when their company evacuated them from Tripoli on Monday & Tuesday.
When I realised my dad was still in Libya, and wasn’t about to be evacuated by a multinational, I spent all day yesterday on the phone trying to arrange for him to be evacuated.
It was an exercise in frustration. The lines were down in Libya so none of the numbers for my dad would connect, so I didn’t know where he was, if he was okay. There was no answer at the Canadian Embassy in Tripoli (despite this being advertised by the Canadian government as one of the numbers for Canadians in Libya to call).
So I tried South Africa, his original employer. They were darlings, and put me in touch with the person in their London office who was coordinating the evacuation from Tripoli. She didn’t know if my dad was on their passenger list but said she would check with her colleague in Libya. An hour later she called back to confirm my dad was no longer their employee, and therefore not on their list, but that their Tripoli based staff still in Libya would keep an eye out for him.
So then I thought – better try the Canadian authorities. I always had faith in the Canadian authorities. Red Mounties, True North Strong and Free… and all that. Since the Canadian Embassy in Tripoli was a no-go, I tried the emergency response number for Canadians. After a few hours of trying I finally got through – only to be told all they were doing were calling the registered Canadians in Libya. They told me that because the phone lines were down in Libya, of the 500 they had registered, they had only been able to connect to 13 on Tuesday. All I could do was make sure they had my dad’s name and details since at that point, Canada was not prepared to evacuate Canadians from Libya.
Bengahzi was already a mess and the airport closed. Airlines were cancelling their flights from Tripoli. Many of the multi-nationals and a host of EU countries including Portugal, Turkey, Netherlands were already coordinating evacuation efforts and sending in chartered planes and boats. It was really horrible to feel so helpless… knowing that violence was escalating and that those with the power to act were not.
I then started reading the reports from Libya more closely, and began to well and truly freak out. Having been told that there are 500 Canadians registered by the emergency response team, seeing Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs report that there were only 500 Canadians in Libya alarmed me. If 500 are registered, there will be many more unregistered in Libya -and other newspapers reported that there were as many as 1000 Canadians in Libya. That is more than double the official number from the foreign minister.
So I started to call Canadian officials who might have some say in the decision to evacuate. First I called the Premier of Alberta (where my parents live), Ed Stelmach. His office told me that this was a federal matter. I called my parents’ MP – Mr Stephen Harper MP. Of course, they would not put me through to Mr Harper, I was connected to his assistant Gord. Gord was sympathetic, listened, and then said I should ‘plead my case’ to Hon Lawrence Cannon – the minister of Foreign Affairs. I then spoke to a secretary at Mr Cannon’s office who again would not put me through to Mr Cannon, but let me ask my questions: I wanted to know why Canada was not evacuating. Why Mr Cannon appeared to have his facts wrong – why he thought there were far less Canadians in Libya than what the emergency response team believed there to be, and half that reported in the media. But the crux of what I wanted to know was what needed to happen before the government would send in a plane to evacuate her citizens.
I was shunted to another department by Mr Cannon’s office, something about the ‘Gulf Department’. The woman there took my name and number, listened to my questions and concerns and said someone would try to call me back.
It was at this point that Gadhafi had just finished his hour and a half long rambling speech declaring he would rather die a martyr than leave Libya, encouraging people to chase and attack the dissenters, and threatening to take action as the Chinese did in Tiananmen Square. Can we say whack job? His remarks were deemed ‘defiant and worrisome‘ by the Canadian government. The situation was finally deemed serious enough to send an evacuation team. The Gulf Department never did call me back but that’s fine by me – they are taking action to evacuate and that’s all that matters.
The plane leaves tomorrow from Tripoli for Rome. My dad managed to call me & my mom this morning. He’s fine, in the compound but a little worried about travelling to the airport given the instability. But he’s planning to be at the airport bright and early tomorrow morning.
I am incredibly thankful they are sending in the plane though the government keeps saying it’s a first come first served situation. The emergency managemement bureau email I got today stated “Seats will be assigned on a first come first serve basis therefore we cannot confirm that there will be enough seats. The number of registrants is higher, but not everyone wants to leave at this time.”
The only reason to say first come first served is if they will have less seats than people trying to get on the plane. Which makes no sense, since according to the Foreign Minister there are only 91 people wanting to leave. If they have this list, then they should know within a reasonable margin of error how many Canadians will be getting on that plane. And there are loads of people waiting at the airport – they will not have a shortage of passengers.
Another call to the emergency bureau basically confirmed what I guessed – that there are teams of people behind the scenes working on the evacuation, but that information is not trickling down. They did not know how many seats were on the plane. They did not know how many people were registered as wanting to leave. They couldn’t give any details… because they didn’t have any to give.
So now we sit and wait a little more and hope that tomorrow they are able to get a big plane and that they will be able to get as many people as possible out to nearby Europe, including my dad, and that the other countries waiting for landing permits get theirs and are also able to send in big planes and ships to carry people away. Scary scary times. For the sake of the Libyans I hope Gadhafi steps down. Enough is enough.