Northern Ireland

Belfast family return home after fleeing Libya turmoil

Stephen and Karen Willoughby
Image caption Stephen and Karen Willoughby flew out of Libya on Thursday with their seven-month-old son

A Belfast man has been describing how he managed to get his family onboard one of the few flights out of Libya.

Teachers Stephen and Karen Willoughby and their seven month old son Dara arrived back in Belfast on Thursday after a terrifying ordeal.

They had to leave practically everything they owned behind, fleeing with whatever they could fit in a suitcase.

The Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to Libya.

Mr Willoughby and his wife taught at the International School in Tripoli and were bussed to the airport by the college.

He said the situation at the airport was worse than they imagined.

"Refugee camp"

"Initially we were worried, then it got too scary and when we got to the airport, it was absolutely horrendous," he said.

"The place was not an airport, it was a refugee camp.

"There were no toilets, people were going to the toilet where ever they could because they weren't allowed out.

"There was a riot on Wednesday night at the airport and all the glass was smashed in. Tear gas was sent in, the last we heard there were 200 EU citizens outside in the middle of it."

Mrs Willoughby said it was a "fluke" that the family managed to make it out of the country.

Image caption Passengers wait for flights inside Tripoli airport

"Stephen had gone out to see about getting onto a flight, when he met up with the British embassy official who asked him if he was a UK citizen and he said yes," she said.

"The official said 'we're doing a British aid evacuation so get yourself onboard'.

"My husband made contact with me and a couple of other members of staff, and we managed to get ourselves onto the flight."

She said her thoughts were with those who remained in the country.

"No way out"

"I feel sad because we have a lot of Libyan people that we work with, that we're very fond of, good friends with, and I pray to God that they're ok," she said.

"There are certain nationalities who have no way out. Their governments are not coming to get them. They are in trouble, they really are in trouble.

"Our hearts are with those who are still out there, they have to ride the storm, and we just hope they are ok."

Hundreds of foreign nationals are still struggling to leave Libya with the situation at Tripoli airport described as "mayhem".

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs is continuing its efforts to rescue dozens of Irish people from the country.

An Irish team has arrived in Malta to help secure the safe release of 40 or so Irish citizens.

It is not yet known when the team will fly on to the Libyan capital Tripoli. It depends on when they get clearance from the Libyan authorities.

It is understood 26 Irish people remain in Tripoli with 12 in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Sea evacuations

Dependent on conditions in the country, six more Irish citizens are expected to make their way to departure points.

An Irish air corps plane was previously forced to leave Tripoli without evacuating any Irish citizens.

The plane spent four hours at Tripoli airport on Wednesday night but it was prevented by Libyan security officials from picking anyone up.

It is expected to return to Libya to resume the evacuation.

Bad weather has also hampered some sea evacuations.

The Foreign Office (FCO) said there were up to 220 Britons still stranded in Libya, 50 of them in Tripoli and between 150 and 170 in the more remote oil-producing areas in the Libyan desert.

It said it had helped more than 350 British nationals leave Libya on Thursday, including 79 on a flight chartered by oil company BP.

A later FCO-chartered flight carrying 181 adults and two children, including 113 Britons, landed at Gatwick at 2030 GMT on Thursday.

Another flight arrived at Gatwick at about 0300 GMT on Friday, although the numbers on board have not yet been confirmed.

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