News / Africa

UN Evacuates Staff From Egypt

UN soldiers escort UN staff based in Egypt after they arrive in Cyprus' Larnaca airport, February 3, 2011.
UN soldiers escort UN staff based in Egypt after they arrive in Cyprus' Larnaca airport, February 3, 2011.

As the security situation in Egypt worsens, the United Nations has begun to withdraw its staff from Egypt, with around 600 personnel and their families being evacuated to Cyprus.

Those being evacuated represent U.N. agencies, including the World Health Organization, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Spokesman Rolando Gomez sai  staff and their families had been given the option to fly either to Cyprus or Dubai.

"The U.N. in Cyprus has made arrangements to receive a number of U.N. staff and their family members who are based in Egypt, who will be temporarily relocated to Cyprus," he said. "We have made preparations for up to four U.N. chartered flights to land at the Larnaca airport.

The first flight to Larnaca from Cairo arrived mid-afternoon Thursday, despite some calls from within Egypt for the United Nations to keep its presence there.  However, the increasingly volatile situation led U.N. decision-makers to call for a pullout of “less essential” personnel.

A number of U.N. staff members are remaining behind in Egypt to carry out essential tasks, so this isn’t a full evacuation - it is a relocation of a number of staff who will be received by the UNFICYP (United Nations Force in Cyprus) members at the airport.

In a separate development, the United States says more than 1,900 Americans have been evacuated since Monday, with additional flights planned.

For those that had spent days of uncertainty at Cairo airport, the relief at finally touching down at so-called “safe haven” airports such as Cyprus is evident - and everyone has a different story to tell.

Reports suggest that around 5,200 passengers of various nationalities were at Cairo airport on Thursday, waiting for commercial or government-chartered flights.

An estimated 50,000 Americans live and work in Egypt, many of whom have been calling their embassy requesting assistance to leave.

The unrest is also harming the lucrative tourism industry, which attracts more than 10 million visitors a year and up to $11 billion in revenues.

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