Flight from Libya

Canadian oil workers and their families talk about leaving the strife-torn country

Dutch military evacuates its citizens from Tripoli airport, Libya

Dutch military evacuates its citizens from Tripoli airport, Libya

As the Canadian government launches an official evacuation to get citizens out of Libya, Maclean’s spoke to Canadians working in Libya’s oil fields, as well as their families.

GARY SUTHERLAND is the father of Glen Sutherland, 30, who is working in Libya as a health and safety advisor on a Suncor drill rig. Glen’s whereabouts are currently unknown, though he is believed to be trying to get out of Libya, after he and two other Canadians had to flee into the desert when their rig was attacked by armed rebels.

“Every time the phone rings, we’re hoping that it’s our son, telling us that he’s fine. People can say whatever they want—they found him—but until we hear his voice, and are reassured that he’s safe, we’re still concerned. The sooner he puts his feet on Canadian soil, the better.

“The company Glen works for contacted his wife, Cassandra, on Monday night and said they would hopefully make arrangements to have Glen and other workers removed from the country. Glen called us [Monday] at 1 p.m. our time. It was an anxious conversation. He didn’t have much time to communicate. It probably lasted about two minutes. He said the rig had been ransacked by armed rebels. They were moving out of the desert at night to make their way to another rig in the desert.”

CARI MIDDLETON was evacuated from Libya by Suncor on Sunday and arrived at her Calgary home on Monday. She is the wife of David Middleton, a geomodeling specialist for Suncor, who arrived in Canada on Tuesday night.

“I got out a day before David—it was women and families first. Last I saw him, he left for work Sunday morning. I wasn’t sure when I’d see him again. We were told by Suncor on Saturday night that things were still fine, that they didn’t have any plans at that point to evacuate us unless they reach certain trigger points. By Sunday morning, those points had been reached.

“Suncor had arranged flights, and transportation to the airport. People at the airport were there to help us through check-in. The airport was busy. But it was kind of a calm busy. People were just doing their jobs, getting through. Those who don’t have the support of the company there, they’re on their own. I don’t know how they are getting out.

“Living in Libya has been great. We kind of thought something would be happening there because of what was going on in Tunisia and Egypt, but we didn’t know to what extent. Before that, the city seemed normal. Though you don’t say a whole lot to your drivers. You don’t know what the touchy-feely subjects are. You don’t discuss the politics there.

“I am hoping to go back there. We left everything. A whole house. But I don’t hope to go back just to get the stuff. It’s okay to live there. You’re living on the Mediterranean, the climate is nice, the Libyan people, individually, are nice.

“In the past week, I didn’t see any of the protests myself. On Sunday night, from our house, my husband said he could hear the gunshots, the sirens, some of the chanting. He said, ‘I now know the difference between gun shots and fire crackers.’ In Libya, we’d always hear fireworks going off at night, because they have these five-day weddings. Now my husband knows what gunshots sound like.

“Suncor hasn’t said anything yet about when we can go back. I don’t know if that’s a question that can be answered. Gadhafi is not going to give it up so easily. We don’t know how long we’re home for. It puts us in limbo. We could be back in a week, back in two months, four months. All of us are in limbo. The whole country is in limbo.”

TROY GAMBLE is a Canadian manager in the oil field services sector. He has been working in Libya for over three years, and just returned from the country last week.

“I hang out with a lot of long-time expats who have lived in Libya. We know Colonel Gadhafi, we know the regime. The [expats] were willing to go back and do business in Libya because we thought Libya was reformed, meaning the regime had changed. We were all wrong. It’s just the same. I’m flabbergasted by how wrong we were. Now we’re into genocide. There’s no doubt genocide is happening in Libya. There is no doubt in my mind. I had 49 Libyan nationals working for me. I had 49 people spread all over Libya and I’m very concerned.

“I was in Tripoli last week. Everyone is always scared in Tripoli. When you go to the outlying neighbourhoods, and to Benghazi where the oil wealth is, they are distanced from Gadhafi. It’s such a tribal area.

“My Libyan employees always told me soon as something happened like this, they’d head to their tribes, back to their neighbourhoods. No matter what happens now, the oil companies can’t go back with him there. No one can go back with Moammar Gadhafi still in power.”

BARRIE ATKINSON is the Winnipeg-based father of Elizabeth Atkinson, a structural geophysicist with Suncor Energy who was airlifted out of the country on Monday

“The last we heard from Elizabeth was yesterday evening, via email. She was in Malta, and waiting to arrange transportation to England, so she can get home to Canada. Elizabeth mentioned that before yesterday, a lot of the vehicles in Libya had Gadhafi posters. But yesterday, there was none of those on the cars. People don’t want to be aligned with him.

“Earlier on, in the beginning of last week, Elizabeth wasn’t worried at all. She said there were some rallies in the streets. She said they were more like high school pep rallies, fans of a football game rallying. But it changed rather drastically on Saturday and Sunday. Instead of walking down the street happily chanting, people were running down the street shouting. But one thing she did say is that she was never afraid. She didn’t feel threatened at any time.

In Tripoli, Elizabeth was living in a villa outside of the expat compound, and it was suggested they should move inside the compound on Sunday afternoon. They took things like their art—most of their things—over to the ex-pat compound. There was a limited amount they could carry out with them. One suitcase, one carry-on. So they left a bunch of stuff in the expat compound.”

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