Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Nine Virginia Travels Arrive Home From Egypt

Nine of 22 local travelers who were stuck in Egypt arrived home safely Sunday from the country, which erupted into massive anti-government protests last week.

Gerry Siekirski, co-owner of Warwick Travel in Newport News, said Monday that she is one of nine passengers who made it home early Sunday morning.

The 13 who were left behind — dubbed the "Cairo 13" by the travel agency — landed safely in Cyprus on Monday and will get to Norfolk about midnight Tuesday.

"Oh, yes, we're gonna be there," Siekirski said about meeting the group at the airport. "I'm alerting families right now."

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo began flying citizens to evacuation points in Europe on Monday. Unrest in Egypt had halted flights and snarled travel out of Cairo since Jan. 25, when tens of thousands of demonstrators began calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

They are citing social, economic and political injustice for decades. At least 100 Egyptians have died since protests began.

Students evacuating

Also in Egypt is a College of William and Mary student studying at the American University in Cairo, according to spokesman Brian Whitson. The student arrived there a week ago, Whitson said, and is now waiting at the airport in Cairo for a return flight to the United States.

American University has about 500 American students in Cairo, of which 350 are in study abroad programs, said university spokeswoman Morgan Roth.

"They have a few more days to confer with their parents and decide whether to leave, whether to leave and come back when classes resume, or whether to stay indefinitely," Roth wrote in an e-mail. "We will provide access to the airport for students as long as the Department of State is providing flights out."

The first plane-load of students arrived in Istanbul Monday morning she said, and airlifts will continue for several days.

Mass exodus

The Cairo airport is jammed this week with thousands of foreigners seeking to flee the unrest, Siekirski said.

"Some were sitting on top of their luggage, some laying beside their luggage, some pushing their luggage," she said. "It was a mass exodus of people trying to get back."

As co-owner of Warwick Travel, Siekirski said she tried to trade place with a client when her name was called out for a Delta flight leaving Cairo, but the airline refused to let her. The remaining local tourists are with co-owner Nancy Alligood, she said.

Countries evacuating their citizens from Egypt include the United States, Israel, Russia, the Czech Republic, and even Iraq, which is flying home for free all citizens, including refugees, who want to return.

Protests continue

There's no clear indication of when protests may end. Mubarak has held power for nearly 32 years and has ignored protestor demands that he step down. Instead, he named a vice president Saturday for the first time in his presidency. He also fired his entire cabinet then swore in a new one.

Protests are ongoing, though, with Egyptians making it clear they want Mubarak gone. Chants in Arabic include "Irhul Mubarak," or "Get out, Mubarak."

According to news reports, more than 40 percent of the Egyptian population of 80 million lives on $2 a day or less, and unemployment is rampant. Citizens are reportedly organizing a million-man march for Tuesday or Wednesday.

Siekirski said she and her group did not see any of the protests since they were in a hotel near the airport, rather than the center of the city. She called her clients "troopers."

"These people have traveled all over the world with me, this is just one more adventure," she said. "It turned out to be a greater adventure than we anticipated."


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank God these people are getting out! The situation is looking really bleak and they need our prayers.