Swedes stuck in southern Lebanon

A ferry with more than 300 EU citizens and others who were evacuated from Lebanon arrived in Larnaca in Cyprus on Monday evening. According to TT's correspondent there were 49 Swedes onboard.

TT has also learned that a Danish ferry will attempt to evacuate EU citizens from the harbour in Saida, south of Beirut, on Tuesday morning.

The ferry has room for 700 people. Passengers will probably have to be taken out to the ferry in smaller boats.

Swedish officials are on the ground in Cyprus to provide Swedes with food and assistance. The hope is that the evacuees will only stay on the island for a few hours before boarding a flight home to Sweden.

Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has chartered three ferries which will evacuate Swedes from the Lebanese capital, Beirut. However, the operation is on hold until guarantees are received from both parties in the conflict that travellers will be given safe passage.

The Swedes who are considered to be in the most danger are those who are still in southern Lebanon, where the situation is so tense that no attempts are being made to reach them. The foreign ministry said that there could be 200 Swedes in the area, but the details were sketchy.

Sweden is hoping that common EU demands, which were being discussed by foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, will enable buses to be sent to southern Lebanon soon.

“The EU is demanding that the Israelis grant safe conduct and guaranteed security for all. As soon as we get such assurances we can send the buses,” said foreign ministry spokesman Jan Janonius.

The first plane carrying Swedes who were evacuated from the war zone landed at Arlanda airport on Monday morning.

“This is the last thing you want for your children,” said Veronica El-Zein when TT met her and her family at the airport.

Carl-Magnus Hyltenius, a foreign ministry representative, was also at Arlanda and summarised the homecoming Swedes’ views of the evacuation:

“The comments are rather mixed. Some are very critical, some are actually positive. They have been exposed to terrible stress, so I can understand that they are critical.”

On Monday there were around 700 Swedes in the city of Aleppo in northern Syria, the majority had travelled there in the buses which were chartered by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

But they were also arriving in privately chartered buses and by other means.

Foreign minister Jan Eliasson explained that for budgetary reasons Sweden had closed down its embassy in Lebanon. He said that it was a misjudgement and wanted to investigate whether similar mistakes had been made in other countries.

“I will investigate our presence in the countries where many new Swedes have their roots,” he told TT.