Chinese navy’s Yemen evacuation draws praise

Chinese navy’s Yemen evacuation draws praise

April 11, 2015   11:05 am

Bombs, bullets, shells and death surrounded Sri Lanka’s Glen Edward when he was trapped in war-torn Yemen just days ago.

Hoping and praying to get out alive, Glen said he could not express how relieved he was to stand on Sri Lankan soil, safe and sound.

“I am relieved. Finally it is all over. I cannot begin to express what we went through. We were very close to death. At one point, I had given up hope of seeing my family again,” he said standing close to his family, outside the country’s Bandaranaike International Airport.

Glen was in the first batch of 29 Sri Lankans who arrived in the country on Wednesday evening after safely being evacuated from the port city of Hodaydah to Djibouti on a Chinese Naval vessel.

He said it was all thanks to the tireless efforts of the Chinese and Sri Lankan governments that they were alive today.

“If the Chinese embassy had not helped us, we would not be standing here today. They are our true brothers. We did not know where to go or whose help to ask for. We desperately approached the Chinese embassy in Yemen and within a day they made efforts to evacuate us,” an emotional Edward said.

The Sri Lankan government earlier this week announced that 45 Sri Lankans had safely been evacuated from the war-ravaged Arab nation on board the Chinese naval ship Linyi and had been transported through a 12-hour journey from Hodaydah to Djibouti.

In the mission, 38 Chinese nationals were also evacuated, concluding the last batch of Chinese nationals and staff members of the Chinese embassy in Yemen to be evacuated.

It was the fourth evacuation mission organized by the Chinese government since Saudi-led coalition forces launched airstrikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The Chinese military said it is the first time that Linyi has picked up evacuees at the port of Hodaydah, adding that the evacuation operation was a smooth one, thanks to thorough preparations by the Chinese embassy in Yemen.

“Two weeks ago the Saudi military started attacking the rebels in Yemen. Fighting got tense so we decided to return to Sri Lanka. Unfortunately at that time the Saudis had banned air travel. We had to then get the help of the Sri Lankan government but we faced a lot of obstacles,” said Ujala Perera, a Toyota employee.

“It was then that our government asked for help from China and they helped us immediately. The Chinese officers aboard the naval ship took care of us brilliantly,” Perera said.

Chinese embassy official Ren Faqiang, who had arrived at the airport to warmly welcome the Sri Lankan nationals on Wednesday evening, said his government was glad the Sri Lankans had returned home safely.

“Just before the April new year, we joined the efforts of the Sri Lankan government to successfully bring back the 45 Sri Lankan citizens stranded in Yemen. The Chinese Foreign Ministry coordinated with their embassies in Yemen, Sri Lanka, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Djibouti to make this evacuation operation possible,” Ren said.

On behalf of the Chinese embassy in Sri Lanka, he congratulated the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially the department of consular affairs and said that without their brave efforts the evacuation would not be possible.

“Finally, these Sri Lankans have returned home safe and sound. Mission complete,” Ren added.

An emotional Bhuddika Prasanna, holding his daughter tight in his arms, said while his only wish was to see his family once again he was grateful that he had escaped from the war with his life.

Prasanna said while fighting intensified in Yemen, they visited several embassies there but were unable to get any immediate answers.

“Finally we sent a text message to the Chinese ambassador in Yemen. He replied to us saying we are brothers. That answer meant a lot to us and from that day our lives were filled with hope again,” Prasanna said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ajith Perera, after welcoming the Sri Lankan nationals, told journalists at the airport, that the return of these citizens was a “major” victory for the government and thanked China in assisting them in their evacuation efforts.

“China has always been a very good friend and they helped us at a time when we urgently needed assistance in getting our citizens back. At the same time, the safe return of these nationals is also a major victory for the government as they have returned just days after war broke out in Yemen,” Perera said.

“Still, many citizens from other nations remain trapped in Yemen and it is a victory that we were able to get our citizens out so quickly,” the deputy minister added.

Minister of Foreign Employment Thalatha Athukorala told journalists that it was the responsibility of her ministry to look into the welfare and safety of all Sri Lankans employed overseas and added that the government was “extremely happy” that the citizens had returned home before the April holidays.

“We are happy we could evacuate them so soon. Once before our citizens were trapped when war broke out in Kuwait but this time we were able to act swiftly and evacuate our citizens to safety,” she said.

The evacuees said while they will now try to forget their the nightmarish days, they hoped that they could someday return to Yemen, in a country free from war. – Xinhua


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