Chinese workers still stuck in Iraq as troops turn back evacuation buses

Troops reportedly turn back buses carrying 1,300 workers trying to evacuate, forcing them to return to camp as supplies dwindle

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 June, 2014, 3:16pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 3:08am

China has demanded cooperation from the Iraqi government to "accurately assess" the security situation after troops reportedly turned back 1,300 Chinese employees of a state-owned enterprise who were trying to leave the war-torn country.

The Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing was increasing its communication with the Iraqi government and military to ensure the safety of its citizens.

"We demand Iraq cooperate with China to accurately assess the security situation and provide security for the evacuation of Chinese workers of companies located in areas where conditions are serious," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said yesterday.

The workers, employed by China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC), were due to evacuate on Tuesday as Iraq's security situation deteriorated.

Iraq is fighting an offensive by the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Isis, that has overrun large swathes of five provinces.

CMEC, which has invested US$1.2 billion in a power plant project in Samarra, had arranged for the workers to travel to Baghdad, but government troops stopped their buses near the Iraqi capital and forced them to return to the Samarra camp, mainland news site Caixin reported.

Some 50 workers managed to escape on a small plane to Baghdad, before transferring to a flight due to land in Shanghai today. But the fate of other workers was "worrying" because several previous evacuation attempts had also failed, said Guo Jing, the wife of an engineer at the camp.

"Their water and food supplies will only last two more weeks, and supplies can't get in, so we are all worried," Guo said. "Their supervisors have already stopped updating them about the evacuation, probably fearing that it would be a severe mental blow if it failed again."

Guo said security had deteriorated over the past two weeks, with guards fleeing the camp. "They are anxiously waiting for updates," Guo said. "If the buses still remain blocked and they have to try other routes, then they would need to pass through areas controlled by militants."

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Iraq said all employees of the company were safe.

The worsening situation in the country poses a huge risk to Chinese investment. Lin Boqiang, director of the China Centre for Energy Economic Research at Xiamen University, said China was facing a dilemma as it imports about 60 per cent of the country's crude oil.

"It is very difficult for China to pull out from Iraq because it has already invested a lot there. The cost for pulling out is too high," he said.