Canadians in Egypt could begin leaving Monday

The federal government will start to fly Canadians out of Egypt, perhaps as early as Monday, but they will have to pay their own fares, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon says.

The federal government will start to fly Canadians out of Egypt, perhaps as early as Monday, but they will have to pay their own fares, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Sunday.

Some Canadians in Cairo said the government hasn't been helpful so far.

Egypt has been in turmoil, with demonstrators in the streets demanding longtime President Hosni Mubarak step down, but the protests Sunday were peaceful.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon talks Sunday in Ottawa about the federal government's plan to help fly Canadians out of Egypt. ((Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press))

"The situation is deteriorating," Cannon said to explain why the government launched the evacuation plan. "The situation is not under control."

People who take the flights to London, Paris or Frankfurt will have to pay for their tickets, he said.

"The object is to operate on a cost-recovery basis," just as other countries are doing with their own evacuation efforts, he said.

Canadians in Egypt who want to leave are asked to phone Canada's embassy in Cairo at 20 2 2791 8700 or call collect to the Foreign Affairs emergency operations centre in Ottawa at (613) 996-8885. Relatives in Canada can contact the centre toll-free by dialling (800) 606-5499.

About 1,200 Canadians have registered with the embassy in Cairo and there are an estimated 6,500 Canadians in Egypt, he said. About 700 to 800 could be flown out Monday and the government will continue to offer the flights as long as they are needed.

The government picked the three European cities because there are large consular staffs there to help the evacuees.

Earlier Sunday, Foreign Affairs said Canadians in Egypt "should consider leaving if their presence is not necessary."
Japanese tourists rest in the lobby of the Cairo airport after their homebound flights were cancelled Sunday. ((Takeshi Tsuchiya/Kyodo News/Associated Press) )

"They may wish to ask family or friends outside of Egypt to help with online travel arrangements, such as securing plane tickets, as local travel service providers may be limited in their capability to do so," the department added.

Western firms help workers

Other nations also offered assistance to their citizens. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo said earlier Sunday that it was making arrangements to fly U.S. citizens to Europe on Monday. People who take advantage of the offer will have to pay for the flight to Europe, pay for a connecting flight back home and are allowed only one piece of luggage, the embassy said.

China said it will send a passenger plane on Monday to pick up more than 500 Chinese citizens stranded at the Cairo airport.

Several Arab countries have also arranged for additional flights on larger jets to rescue their citizens. Iraq said it would fly its citizens for free out of Egypt.

Azerbaijan and Turkey have also chartered flights for their citizens.

International oil companies and other Western firms are now considering the enormous task of getting employees' families out of Egypt.

BP spokesman Robert Wine said the company, which has a 40-year history in Egypt, is "working on what we need to do, and whether we need to bring the families out."

More than 60 private jets have left Cairo airport over the weekend.

Cairo airport chaotic: Canadian

Lita Norman, a Canadian living in Cairo, told CBC News on Sunday that she and her children tried unsuccessfully to board a flight out of Egypt but couldn't get through security in the chaos at the main airport.

"It was one big mass of people pushing and shoving," Norman said in a telephone interview from her Cairo home. "On a good day, it's like that, but this was so much worse, with people desperate to get in, screaming, yelling, panicked."

She said her mother in Victoria has been in contact with Foreign Affairs and was told it was a good idea for Norman to go to the airport.

"It would be great to have more help and contact," Norman said. "We don't have internet here. We've heard nothing from [Foreign Affairs] at this time."

James Di Fiore, whose girlfriend and her mother are holed up in a Cairo hotel, said the Canadian government hasn't been much help.

"Our federal government was missing in action up until an hour ago," Di Fiore told The Canadian Press soon after Cannon's announcement.

The 34-year-old Toronto resident also bristled at the fact his loved ones will only be taken as far as Europe and will have to eventually pay for their evacuation.

"[The government] is running the protection elements of what it's supposed to provide for its citizens as a business."

Di Fiore's girlfriend, Michelle Bozak, spent the last three days trying to get in touch with embassy staff in Cairo for advice and support but couldn't reach a single official. She was able to talk to Di Fiore on her cellphone but does not have access to the internet.

Now, with the chartered flights on offer, Di Fiore said it will be a challenge for Bozak and her mother to make their way to the airport, particularly after staff in their hotel have advised against stepping into the frantic streets, where travellers have been robbed or assaulted at frequent roadblocks.

 "Aside from having me on the telephone she has gone through this entire ordeal completely void of any help from the Canadian federal government," he said. "I think that's dropping the ball."

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With files from The Canadian Press