CAIRO: Malaysian students are being evacuated from strife-torn Egypt to Jeddah by the federal government at no cost, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom.
Dismissing claims that the students would be charged for the evacuation, he said the government also provided accommodation, bus transportation, food and drinks for them.
He said the government also arranged the process of issuing passports and visas for the students free-of-charge and paid their airport tax.
"We need cooperation from all parties but ironically, certain quarters are casting aspersion on our rescue effort," he told reporters here Friday.
Jamil Khir said the Royal Malaysian Navy's Bunga Mas 5 auxiliary ship, which had called at the Cairo Port, had yet to be mobilised as the aircraft were sufficient to fly out Malaysian students from Cairo.
"Anyway, travel by sea will take a longer time. From our meeting with the National Security Council, Wisma Putra and the Putra 1Malaysia Club yesterday, we feel that we will able to complete the rescue mission by deploying additional MAS, AirAsia and the Royal Malaysian Air Force planes," he said.
About 3,000 Malaysian students are expected to be flown from Cairo to Jeddah Friday, he added. Meanwhile, political secretary to the prime minister, Datuk Shahlan Ismail, said the evacuation process of Malaysian students from Egypt to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was going on smoothly.
He said the students were transported by bus from their respective residential colleges to the Malaysian Hostel in Cairo and Mara Hostel in Alexandria before being taken to the airport, also by bus.
"We are moving in convoys for safety reason. The students, either those at the airport or at the hostels, are fine," he told Bernama when contacted.
He said that there would be 12 flights to Jeddah Friday involving three C-130 aircraft belonging to the Malaysian Royal Air Force and two aircraft operated by Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia.
"They are mounting shuttle flights between Cairo and Jeddah but this depends on the landing rights approval in Jeddah. If they can provide more, then we can push for more flights," he said.
He said that two of the C-130 aircraft and one each from Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia would fly out of Cairo International Airport while the rest would be from Alexandria airport.
In a related development, chairman of the Malay Association in the Arab Republic of Egypt, Mohd Sulaiman Ismail, said the Malaysian Embassy had provided 13 buses to transport students from Tanta to Cairo.
"Five buses have just left for Tanta; we are still waiting for the rest," he said when contacted.
The evacuation process Friday involved 800 students in Tanta, about 80km from Cairo, mostly students of the University of Tanta and Al-Azhar University.
Mohd Sulaiman said that although there were rioting in Tanta, it was not as bad as in Cairo.
Deputy Foreign Minister Senator A. Kohilan Pillay said earlier that curfew and landing rights were among the challenges faced in evacuating over 11,000 Malaysians from crisis-stricken Egypt, .
He added that the curfew, imposed between 4pm and 8am previously, had been lengthened to between 1pm and 8am.
"We need to move swiftly to ensure as many people can be evacuated within the limited period. We make use of that limited time to bring them to the airport," he told Bernama when contacted on Friday.
He added that landing rights at Cairo airport was also difficult to obtain due to the tense situation in Egypt.
On Friday, the operations would cover areas outside Cairo, among them Alexandria, Mansoura, Tanta and Zagazig, he said.
In JEDDAH, an operations room has been set up at the Madinatul Hujaj transit centre, where Malaysian students from Egypt are being accommodated following their evacuation from the troubled country.
Malaysian Consul General in Jeddah, Datuk Mohd Hidayat Abdul Hamid, said the transit centre could accommodate 3,000 people.
"So far, more than 300 students have arrived here and more will be arriving with the expected arrival of the Mas, Air Asia and Royal Malaysian Air Force aircraft in the next few hours," he told Bernama here.
He said parents of the affected students could contact the operations room at the transit centre at telephone number 0096626301678 or 0096626726191 for more information.
Mohd Hidayat said if the need arose, the students would be placed at the Tabung Haji hostel and assured parents that their children would be well taken care of during their stay at the transit centre.
One of the students met at the centre, Eizat Rejab, 20, said they gathered at the Perlis House in Cairo before being taken by an officer from the Malaysian Embassy to the Cairo airport.
He said the first batch of students who were evacuated were from Perlis, Penang and Kelantan and majority of them were women.
It is learnt that the second group of Malaysian students who will be evacuated are from Selangor and Sarawak, said the Al-Azhar University student.
Another student, Mohd Ainur Rabbani, 19, of the University of Jordan, said he was in Egypt for a holiday and was initially doubtful that they would be able to leave the country.
It was a relief that through the action taken by the Malaysian government, we were able to leave Egypt, said Mohd Ainur, who is from Subang Jaya, Selangor. - Bernama