EGYPT: Thousands of Asian students evacuated

Asian countries began to evacuate their students from Egypt even as the escalating anti-government demonstrations raised fears of contagion among their own sizeable Muslim populations.

Indonesia and Malaysia, whose international students outnumber those from Western countries in Egypt, organised several flights this week as anxious parents watched events unfold.

Malaysian and Indonesian students are mainly in Egypt for Islamic studies, law, medicine, dentistry and pharmacy.

Some officials expressed concern that international students might join Egyptian students protesting in the streets, and acted swiftly to remove them to safety, including to neighbouring countries.

Malaysia's Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah this week warned Malaysian students not to join in demonstrations or protests against Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

"They have their own views [about what is happening in Egypt] but the situation is tense and fraught with danger and they should in no way risk their lives," he was quoted by the official Bernama news agency as saying.

With some 14,000 Malaysians in Egypt, 11,300 of them students pursuing Islamic studies or medicine, Malaysia sent military aircraft and a navy ship as well as commercial aircraft.

In Malaysia Chief of Defence Force Azizan Ariffin said on Thursday that military aircraft were running round-the-clock flights between Egypt and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia for Malaysian citizens. "It will be a 24-hour non-stop operation," he said.

Some 2,500 of the 6,000 Indonesians in Egypt were evacuated this week, with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa saying on Thursday that another flight was being prepared.

Marty said the Jakarta government was also preparing places in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Dubai to temporarily shelter Indonesian citizens, most of them also taking Islamic studies and medicine courses in Cairo.

However some Indonesian citizens in Egypt, especially students, said they wanted to stay in the country, fearing it would be difficult for them to return when the situation had returned to normal, Indonesia's media reported.

Unlike many Western students in Egypt on short-term study abroad or exchange programmes, students from Asian and Middle Eastern countries are mainly there for the duration of their degrees, making it difficult to transfer to courses back home.

With Egypt's universities closed and courses postponed, it is unclear whether classes will resume any time soon.

More than 90 Singaporeans, including 80 students mostly from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, were able to leave Egypt on Tuesday, with another 102 Singaporean students preparing to leave on Friday.

Singapore's Ambassador in Cairo, Tan Hung Seng, estimated the total number of Singaporean students in Egypt to be around 200 and said many of them would return home with a second flight being organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore and the Singaporean Students Welfare Assembly.

Ahmad Helmi Mohd Hasbi, president of the Singapore Students Welfare Assembly in Cairo, said: "In our residential area it is quite safe, but we took the decision to go back as a precaution because we still do not know what is going to happen and it is unpredictable."

Russian students left Egypt for the Republic of Bashkortostan on Thursday. However around 200 Russian students studying at Al-Ahram University were trapped in their residence because of the continuing unrest in Cairo, the Russian Interfax news agency reported.

India also evacuated some 500 citizens, the country's External Affairs Ministry said. India has some 3,600 nationals in Egypt, mainly in Cairo and Alexandria including, 1,037 students at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. "If the situation warrants, more evacuation will be arranged," a ministry official said.

Pakistan and Thailand were also preparing to evacuate citizens.

Thailand's foreign minister Kasit Promya said it had asked Malaysia and Indonesia to help evacuate Thai citizens numbering around 2,500 in Egypt, mostly students.

Habib Madsen, a Thai student in Cairo, was quoted in local media as saying: "The protest in Egypt is getting more violent. The Thai students are waiting for help from the government."

Plans were underway to fly out Kenyan students, the country's Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister Richard Onyonka was quoted in The Nation newspaper as saying. There are 200 Kenyans in Cairo, 148 of them university students. However Oyonka said most of the students wanted to stay in Cairo to monitor the situation, but would keep in touch with the embassy.

Some 43 Ugandan students, who were on scholarships granted through Uganda's Ministry of Education, were evacuated aboard a Kenya Airways flight, Acting Principal Assistant Secretary in the Ugandan ministry Kitonsa Kajoba said this week.