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February 25, 2011

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Evacuees arrive home

FORTY Chinese construction workers and technicians arrived in Shanghai by aircraft yesterday afternoon, before moving on to their hometowns in neighboring Jiangsu Province, after being evacuated from Libya.

Another 43 of their colleague arrived at Beijing yesterday morning.

The men, mostly in their 30s and 40s, were hired by the China Building Technique Group Co, a construction company specializing in overseas projects.

The company arranged buses to take the men home to be reunited with their families last night, following their arduous and dangerous journey.

Weary and unshaven, Shi Jian, a construction worker, was the first of the group to emerge from the airport waiting lounge. "It's great to be back," he said. The 41-year-old said he just wanted to see his family as soon as possible.

While safe home after four days' traveling, the memory of the chaos in Libya is still fresh in the men's minds.

"I have no intention of returning to work there, regardless of the pay. What happened really scared the hell out of us," said Zhang Zenghua, a middle-aged worker hailing from Jiangsu's Lianyungang city, on arrival.

His sentiments were echoed by a crowd of fellow workers.

Zhang had been working in Libya since September building a university campus.

"I didn't return home during the Spring Festival due to work. I certainly never expected to come back this way," he said.

The men said they were attracted to work in Libya because the pay was better than at home. Construction worker Zhang Shenghu, 42, said he could earn up to 240 yuan (US$36) a day in Libya.

The workers said they left last Sunday morning, after armed men ransacked their living quarters the previous night. A worker named Ni Zongfu recalled the terrifying incident. "About 20 to 30 men carrying assault rifles, handguns and knives broke into our place and robbed us of our valuables, cash and mobile phones. There was no way we could have fought back."

With help of Chinese embassy, the workers took minibuses to the Libyan-Egyptian border, then traveled to Alexandria in Egypt where they caught a Qatar Airlines flight to Shanghai.

The workers later learned that their dorms and offices were burned to the ground after they left.

Lu Yongmei, a project manager with China Building Technique Group, said she did not know if the project could continue.


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