Evacuated Chinese fly home from Iraq

Updated: 2014-06-29 23:16

By XU JINGXI in Guangzhou and ZHANG YUNBI in Beijing (China Daily)

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They call families, describe surging violence in Middle Eastern country

The first group of Chinese workers evacuated from war-plagued Iraq spoke to their families by phone after landing in Guangzhou on Sunday.

They said they were happy to be rid of the threat from flying bullets and bombs in the troubled Middle Eastern nation.

Public attention had focused on the safety of Chinese nationals since more than 1,200 Chinese working on power plant construction projects became trapped in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra.

"When fighting started there, we could feel the impact from weapons being fired all the time. As a result, even the noise from closing a door could mistakenly sound like mortar shells," said Li Jinzhi, a 45-year-old worker.

Li and seven colleagues left Baghdad on Saturday and changed planes in Dubai and Doha before heading to Guangzhou, Guangdong province, marking the end of an anxious 20-day wait to be evacuated from Iraq.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed on Friday that all 1,200 employees from China Machinery Engineering Corp had been evacuated safely to Baghdad.

Among the group that returned home, Li made a surprise phone call to his wife, who said few words but kept chuckling throughout the conversation.

"We had full confidence that our country could bring us back," Li said.

China Machinery Engineering Corp said in a news release that the company, Chinese diplomatic missions in Iraq and the Iraqi administration had remained in close contact and had collaborated effectively to draw up and implement the evacuation plan.

The company sent a contingency team to Iraq in early June, while media reports confirmed that the Iraqi government had sent armored vehicles to escort the Chinese workers.

Mao Xinmin, a 51-year-old chef at a power plant construction site, said their trapped colleagues had been keeping calm, as the company had sent a team to handle the issue.

Although Mao was eager to contact his son in Poland, Internet access at the site was cut off on June 16.

Yin Gang, a researcher on Middle East affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said highly flexible coordination is key to a successful evacuation.

"Evacuation on such a massive scale cannot succeed without multilateral coordination," he said.

Security observers lauded Beijing's ability to strike a balance between confidentiality and publicizing sensitive information.

Yin said, "Securing confidentiality is also a routine part of evacuation strategies. It is a duty to protect the people who help you."

After giving a briefing on Friday on the overall progress of evacuation efforts, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters, "I am not in a position to disclose more details to you due to safety issues."

Contact the writers at zhangyunbi@chinadaily.com.cn and xujingxi@chinadaily.com.cn