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Suhasini Haidar
Sunday , July 23, 2006 at 09 : 10

Cyprus chronicles


A wise man once said - if you see a building on fire with dozens of people rushing out, and few crazy men fighting to get in - chances are the crazy one are the journalists.

Maybe the man wasn't wise after all - just a journalist himself (or herself)!

And as I sit here in Cyprus's Larnaka port, watching hundreds of tired exhausted evacuees file in - I really wonder just how crazy we must be to even try to head to Lebanon in the middle of what seems like probable war.

At every point we are begging airlines officials, diplomats, immigration officials, ship captains to take us on board as they go on their missions to evacuate American, French, Greek, Turkish, and Italian citizens.

Surprisingly, India is the only Asian country to mobilise its Navy to evacuate its citizens.

And also, ahem, bit of pride here - the only country that's accepting other nationalities too (the last shipload of the INS Mumbai had Lebanese, Americans, Nepalese and Sri Lankans aboard). What's more, unlike India, many countries like the US are even charging evacuees $500 apiece for their flight to safety.

On the Air India flights that we flew in to Cyprus to collect Indian evacuees, and the INS Mumbai naval ship we hope to take to Beirut, me and the eight journalists I am traveling with are always the only ones going in - while thousands move in the opposite direction.

The large humanitarian crisis looming around us should itself get Israel to stop the bombings now. Aboard the INS Mumbai's first trip to Beirut, I spoke to so many Indians who were fleeing the situation there. All but a few were blue-collar workers - working as street cleaners, waiters, factory workers, housemaids, and construction labourers. They really needed their jobs in Lebanon, they really needed to send the money home.

Like sisters Sushila and Lalitha, both housekeepers for two Lebanese families in Beirut. They lived in relative comfort there for two decades, regularly sending money home to the rest of their family outside Trivandrum. But they decided to leave overnight - leaving most of their belongings, their employers unable to pay them their full salaries at short notice.

Now, instead of escaping their poverty, they are escaping a possible death. Not a very tough choice, I agree, but why should they even have to make it?

The politics of West Asia, of Arab-Israeli tensions is just too complex to be making a black and white judgement call over Israeli bombing of the Hezbollah, but surely it isn't too difficult to see that the collateral damage is rising beyond belief. And that Lebanon, a country that has only just rebuilt itself from the last war, is now facing large-scale destruction.

Meanwhile, evacuees checking into Larnaka, have one question - why is the international community restricting itself to just organising evacuations?

Why isn't it possible for the world to speak out against violence of any sort in one voice anymore? Predictably the Arab nations condemn Israel, and the Western nations do just the opposite.

The United Nations are no longer that - united. On more and more issues - whether it was Saddam's open defiance of its conventions, or the US's actions after, or current problems with Iran and North Korea (the list is endless), the UN stands for the Untied Nations. Well they need to stitch this one up - and fast.


More about Suhasini Haidar

Suhasini Haidar is Diplomatic Editor, The Hindu. Earlier, she was a senior editor and prime time anchor for India's leading 24-hour English news channel CNN-IBN, and also hosted the signature show, 'World View with Suhasini Haidar'. Over the course of her 17-year career, Suhasini has covered the most challenging stories and conflicts from the most diverse regions including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Libya, Lebanon and Syria. In India, she has covered the external affairs beat for over a decade and her domestic assignments include in-depth reportage from Kashmir. In 2011 she won the Indian Television Academy-GR8! Award for 'Global news coverage',and the Exchange4Media 'Enba' award for best spot news reporting from Libya. In 2010, She won the NewsTelevision NT 'Best TV News Presenter' Award. Suhasini is the only journalist to have interviewed Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his family, a show that won the prestigious Indian Television Academy award as 'Best Chat show' for the year.


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