The UN refugee agency said almost 100,000 migrant workers, mostly from Egypt and Tunisia, have fled Libya in the past week and many remain stranded at the Libya-Tunisia border as Libyan customs officers deserted their posts on Sunday.
Meanwhile a ferry loaded with some 1,800 Asian workers docked in the Mediterranean island of Malta. As the closest European Union member state located just 350 kilometers (218 miles) north of Libya, it has become a key hub in the desperate scramble to get foreigners out of Libya.
Malta’s Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said his island nation had received some 8,000 people since the Libyan crisis began and he feared there could be an even greater exodus.
*”There could be an escalation,” Gonzi said at a press conference late Sunday. “We have brought back from Libya more than 8,000 people representing 89 nationalities.”*
*”If the situation continues to escalate, we’ll need help from Europe and share the burden with our European partners,”* he said, adding that in his view the end was in sight.
*”The leadership of Kadhafi needs to end and its end is inevitable,”* he said.
Evacuees on the ferry — chartered by Brazilian energy infrastructure company Odebrecht — included citizens of China, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam who will be flown back to their homelands from Malta.
Libya, one of Africa’s biggest oil producers, had a huge multinational workforce before the current crisis including construction workers, oil industry workers and domestic helpers from Bangladesh, China, Egypt and the Philippines.
Some 4,600 people fleeing the violence in Libya, mostly Chinese nationals, arrived in the Greek ports of Piraeus and Heraklion on Sunday. Three Greek ferries have evacuated more than 7,00 foreign nationals from Libya.
Several hundred Vietnamese and Filipinos also made their escape by land to neighboring Algeria, abandoning their construction jobs, along with some 109 Libyans and three Belarussians, the Algerian news agency APS reported.
An Italian warship, the San Giorgio, meanwhile landed in Sicily loaded with 258 evacuees from around 20 countries including 121 Italians who were rescued from the Libyan port of Misurata in stormy weather conditions.
A ship chartered by Russian businesses operating in Libya, the Sveti Stefan II, arrived at the port of Ras Lanouf in central Libya to evacuate 1,126 people, as a Russian emergency situations ministry plane flew to Tripoli.
Sweden also said it had sent a military transport plane to Libya to evacuate foreign and Swedish nationals to Malta.
Hundreds of Filipinos, Indians and Vietnamese meanwhile landed back in their homelands saying they feared for their lives in Libya.
*”This escape of mine makes me feel I am in heaven,”* said Mohammed Sali, 63, an engineer, after landing in New Delhi.
The United Nations said more than 1,000 people had been killed in Libya as supporters of strongman Moamer Kadhafi crack down on protests.
Italy, Libya’s former colonial ruler, said it had evacuated more than 1,400 of its citizens so far from the turmoil in Libya. Italy’s foreign ministry said Libya had around 1,500 Italian residents before the start of the crisis.
On Saturday, more than 150 foreign nationals were flown to Malta on two British Royal Air Force C130 Hercules transport planes after being rescued from remote oil installations in the Libyan desert by special forces.
*”We flew treetop all the way across the desert, it was quite spectacular. It was a big, big relief to see those guys,”* Siemens employee Nigel Bilton, one of those rescued, was quoted as saying by The Sunday Times newspaper.
And on Sunday three British military aircraft rescued a further 150 foreign nationals also stranded at remote camps in the Libyan desert.
A British warship, the HMS Cumberland, docked in Malta on Saturday carrying hundreds of evacuees and set off back for Libya to pick up more foreigners. The HMS York has also left Malta for Libyan shores.
Germany’s weekly Bild am Sonntag said two Transall C-160 planes landed on an air strip in Nafurah in the desert and evacuated 133 people. But the German foreign ministry said dozens of Germans remained stranded in the desert.