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‘No Safe Corridors’: Thousands of Arab Students Are Stranded in Ukraine

In an article published on Sunday, Agence France-Presse shed light on the suffering of over ten thousand Arab students who have been stranded in Ukraine after the Russian invasion.

How to repatriate the students and other citizens is a dilemma for Arab governments, the article reveals. Some of the governments lack diplomatic representation in Ukraine.

Students from several Arab countries choose Ukraine to continue their university education, especially in medicine and engineering, due to the ease of obtaining entry visas to this country. Many go there to escape conflicts or economic crises in their countries.

Moroccans and Egyptians make up the main component of Arab students in Ukraine.

Several families gathered on Friday outside the headquarters of the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Rabat, to express concern about the fate of their children.

Over 12,000 Moroccans, including 8,000 students, live in Ukraine. About 3,000 of them left before the Russian attack on Thursday, primarily on private flights, the ministry said.

Ukraine’s airspace is now closed, so people trying to leave first have to travel to a safe country nearby.

“I left Iraq to escape war and change the way I lived, from war, fatigue and problems. Today, I live the same scenario and see the same fear in the eyes of people and children.”

Ali Mohammed
An Iraqi student in Ukraine

Morocco is setting up special flights for its citizens from countries neighboring Ukraine to Casablanca, at a fixed price of 750 dirhams (70 euros), the ministry said.

Battles in City Streets

Among the Moroccans who hope to leave Ukraine is Nasima Aqtied, a 20-year-old pharmacy student. So far, she has not found a way out of the eastern city of Kharkiv. Street battles took place there on Sunday and residents are confined to their homes.

“I thought about leaving the city, but it is impossible,” Aqtied told AFP. “The closest border to us is the border with Russia.”

In southeastern Ukraine, Rania Okarfi, a 23-year-old dental student, managed to leave the city of Zaporizhia for Moldova on Thursday, shortly after the start of the Russian attack.

Okarfi said she had witnessed “painful scenes” and peaceful places “distorted overnight”. She criticized the absence of the Moroccan embassy, ​​which “does not help. We try to contact and no one answers.”

Stranded Lebanese Students

Samir Atallah, 25, is one of about 750 Lebanese students stranded in several Ukrainian cities, out of a total of 1,300 who were present before the start of the crisis.

“I left Lebanon a month and a half ago due to the economic collapse,” Atallah told AFP via WhatsApp. “I saved money and sold my car to study here… and then the war began.”

Atallah managed to leave Kharkiv for another region, but he hasn’t found a way out of the country yet.

“We are trying to communicate with the Lebanese embassy and have filled out a form on its website,” he said, but to no avail. He and others are appealing to the Lebanese authorities to secure buses to take them to the borders with Poland or Romania.

Ali Chreim, head of the Lebanese community in Ukraine and owner of a restaurant in Kyiv, spoke of the suffering of Lebanese students, including young women who were taking shelter in metro stations.

He told AFP that he had sent them food but was unable to accommodate them. He noted that some of the students are young and “do not speak Ukrainian or Russian.”

In Beirut, the minister of foreign affairs and emigrants, Abdallah Bou Habib, advised Lebanese citizens in Ukraine to “stay in safe places until things clear up.” There are “no safe corridors” for leaving now, he said.

The ministry is planning evacuate those who have made it to Poland or Romania by air, but it has not said when.

“I left Lebanon a month and a half ago due to the economic collapse. I saved money and sold my car to study here … and then the war began.”

Samir Atallah
A Lebanese student in Ukraine

Close to Safety, but Still Trapped

Even students in cities far from the combat zones are finding themselves trapped.

Ali Muhammad, a 25-year-old engineering student from Iraq who had hoped to graduate this year, is in Chernivtsi, a western Ukrainian city close to the Romanian border, but is unable to leave. Dozens of daily contacts with his country’s embassy have been in vain.

“I left Iraq to escape war and change the way I lived, from war, fatigue and problems,” he told AFP. “Today, I live the same scenario and see the same fear in the eyes of people and children.”

Iraqi and Syrian students face the most difficulties in returning to their countries, Muhammad said. “We are waiting for relief,” he said.

Ahmed Al-Sahaf, a spokesman for the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, said there are 5,537 Iraqis in Ukraine, 450 of whom are university students.

Egyptians Stranded in Kharkiv

A number of Egyptian students are stranded in Kharkiv. Saad Abu Saada, a 25-year-old pharmacy student, said he and a few compatriots were among only a few international students remaining in university housing. Dozens of international students from other countries have departed, he said, following the instructions of their embassies, but the Egyptians have been unable to leave.

The Egyptian embassy “hasn’t done anything yet,” Abu Saada told AFP. “We are four Egyptians. All our friends left us.”

About 6,000 Egyptian nationals reside in Ukraine, the embassy said. More than half of them are students, and most of them are in Kharkiv.

The ministry has announced on Facebook that it is coordinating the evacuation of its citizens to Romania and Poland.

Collecting at Border Points

Other Arab countries are making efforts to evacuate their citizens. Morocco called on its nationals to go to border points with Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland.

Tunisia, which does not have a diplomatic representation in Ukraine, plans to send planes to Poland and Romania to bring back any of its 1,700 nationals, 80 percent of whom are students.

“We will start our operations as soon as we finish the list of Tunisians who want to return,” Mohamed Trabelsi, an official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told AFP. He said the ministry has contacts with the United Nations and the International Red Cross to help evacuate them by land.

Libya has identified, according to its embassy, ​​gathering points in Ukraine for its three thousand nationals, to be evacuated to Slovakia.

Algeria, which is linked by military agreements with Russia, was an exception. It has not invited its approximately 1,000 students in Ukraine to leave the country. Instead, officials have urged them to “exercise extreme caution and not leave their homes except in emergencies.”

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