Vietnamese labor firms struggle to bring home thousands of laborers stranded in Libya
Egyptians carry their belongings as they cross the border into Tunisia at a border crossing after fleeing unrest in Libya on February 23
Officials from the Vietnamese Labor Management Board in Libya say they're preparing to evacuate 10,000 Vietnamese workers as the North African country descends into violence.
The agency's director, Nguyen Duc Nam, said they've already taken steps to fly 200 Vietnamese workers back to Vietnam on Wednesday (February 23).
"All commercial flights out of Libya have been suspended," Nam told Thanh Nien over the phone. "Only charter planes and humanitarian aircrafts are available now. We've hired one and 200 workers are expected to depart, today."
On Wednesday, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's government released its first official figures on the number of casualties since the antigovernment demonstrations broke out on February 15.
According to the release, 300 people, including 58 soldiers, have died in the violence. Nearly half of the fatalities were said to have occurred in the country's second largest city, Benghazi, which is located in the Eastern half of the country, where most of the violence has occurred.
On the same day, the Italian foreign minister claimed that more than 1,000 Libyan civilians had perished since the protests erupted.
According to a report from 20 Vietnamese labor firms operating in Libya, around 2,000 Vietnamese workers had come to Benghazi for work. The rest were employed in Tripoli and the surrounding areas.
"We have repeatedly warned Vietnamese workers not to get involved in demonstrations or conflicts with the locals," Nam said. "We're glad that the security of Vietnamese workers has been maintained without any casualties, so far."
Nam added that foreigners stranded inside Libya have been receiving food and water from local and humanitarian organizations. Nam was unsure if this aid would continue, especially since the EU has begun to consider imposing sanctions against Muammar Gaddafi's government.
"We are hoping to return all Vietnamese workers but there have been many difficulties," he said. "Even the locals are short of food. Moreover, it is difficult to move around here because several cities have dispatched forces to block major entrances."
By plane or boat
The Air Service and Trading Joint Stock Company (Airseco), which dispatched 200 Vietnamese construction workers to Benghazi, said Wednesday that its Libyan partner has committed to sending them back in the coming days.
Airseco's director, Nguyen Xuan Vui, said their partners would choose between sending the workers back to Vietnam by flights through Greece or by putting them on ships bound for China.
"The employer has pledged to pay 3-6 months of their salaries and flight tickets," he said.
Vui said that work has been suspended for the past three days and the employer China State Corporation has prohibited all of their workers from going outside.
"Luckily, they have stored up months of food because they couldn't get used to the local cuisine," he said.
Doan Dai Thanh, chairman of the International Manpower Supply and Trade Company (Sona) dispatched 2,000 workers to Libya.
Thanh said he has contacted his Libyan partners to make sure the workers are safe and on their way home.
"The best way is sending them back by air," he said.
Nam of the Vietnamese Labor Management Board in Libya said that the government should officially demand that the Libyan government evacuate the large number of Vietnamese workers.
The Vietnamese Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs has asked labor firms that have sent Vietnamese workers to Libya to help ensure their safety and remuneration.
The Ministry's Department for Overseas Labor Management held a meeting on February 22 in Hanoi with representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and companies that have laborers working in Libya to discuss an exit strategy.
Companies with employees in the country have been asked to work closely with their partners in Libya in to ensure the safety of their workers.
The agency has also officially suspended any plans to send Vietnamese workers to Libya in the future.
Thanh of Sona said the company has canceled this year's plan to send 2,300 workers to Libya. Airseco has also nullified an agreement to send 2,000 workers there.
According to Vietnamese labor firms, Libya had been considered a prime destination for many unskilled workers where they can earn between US$350-$1,000 per month.
Prior to the outbreak of the crisis, Vietnam planned to send between 5,000 and 7,000 workers to Libya each year until 2015.