State: Evacuation from Egypt was 'last resort'

Thursday - 2/3/2011, 2:53pm EST

James Pettit, deputy assistant secretary for Overseas Citizens Services, State Department

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With the ongoing protests in Egypt -- and escalating danger for Americans -- the State Department ordered the evacuation of all non-emergency U.S. Personnel.

More than 1,900 Americans and family members have been evacuated from Egypt since Monday, according to a Wednesday release from State.

At the same time, State is sending officers from neighboring consulates and embassies into Cairo to assist with the evacuation, said James Pettit, deputy assistant secretary for the agency's Overseas Citizens Services, in an interview with the DorobekINSIDER.

The department has been watching the developments and determined there was "sufficient concern" to evacuate non-emergency personnel.

Although State is worried about Americans' safety, the concern is not about "anti-Western or anti-American sentiment," Pettit said.

"This is very much a domestic issue and seems to be very much an expression of a large number of people in Egypt on their satisfaction or dissatisfaction of their current government there," Pettit said.

In a speech Tuesday, President Obama said the events unfolding in Egypt show "a new chapter in the history of a great country." The president said the U.S. stands for universal rights, such as freedom of speech, assembly and access to information.

Evacuations such as the current one in Egypt have happened "hundreds of times in the last couple decades," Pettit said. He added, "It is still considered a last resort."

Americans are departing Egypt on both charter and commercial flights. The destination points include mainly Athens, Frankfurt, Nicosia, Istanbul and Amman, Pettit said.

State is assisting with the logistics of the evacuation, but the citizens must pay for their own flights on the charter, comparable in cost to a commercial flight. These citizens sign a promissory notes that they will reimburse the government, Pettit said.

Routine services at the Cairo embassy - such as visa issuance - have been interrupted, according to a Feb. 1 statement by Janice Jacobs, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs.

However, Pettit said, the embassy is still open and staffed.

U.S. citizens in Egypt can find travel updates at Travel.State.Gov. Americans in Egypt or in the U.S. Concerned about loved ones can contact the State Department by email at EgyptEmergencyUSC@state.gov or telephone at 1-888-407-4747 (toll-free in the United States and Canada) or 1-202-501-4444 (outside the United States and Canada).