Alarm over Indian workers in war-torn Iraq
Nurses stranded in Tikrit: 40 laborers go missing in Mosul
Fierce fighting has been reported in the cities of Mosul and Tikrit, where Indian workers are either stranded or reported missing. Picture: AFP Photo/Karim Sahib
The Indian government has dispatched a special envoy to Iraq after 40 Indian construction workers went missing four days ago from the war-torn city of Mosul.
“The government has sent Suresh Reddy, former Indian Ambassador to Iraq, to head the crisis management group in that country,” said Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson for the federal external affairs ministry. “We have opened a 24-hour helpline to help Indians stranded in Iraq and are monitoring the situation.”
The 40 construction workers have not been heard from since June 14, he said, adding that he could not confirm or deny reports that they had been kidnapped by militants.
“At this stage we have no reports whatsoever, no confirmation, no verification of any Indian national being involved in any violent accident or injury." he added.
Another official in the ministry said that while no information on their status existed, “They [militants] might have taken them as hostages.”
The external affairs ministry said it is trying to evacuate 120 Indians from areas of northern Iraq that have been overrun by militants belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
The 120 Indians include 46 nurses who are stranded in Tikrit.
“The situation in Iraq is very volatile and we have only limited options,” said K C Joseph, minister for non-resident Indians in Kerala, southern India. “But the Kerala government is determined to offer all possible help to Indian citizens.”
The minister said that most of the nurses are from Kerala and are staying at a hospital. “Many of them do not want to come back as they have been there just five months and are back paying huge sums of money for their travel and recruitment charges,” he said.
Marina Jose, one of the stranded nurses, managed to telephone Father Jose Thomas, in Kottayam in Kerala, to report that they were “leading a life of prisoners.
"We can't step out of the hospital premises. We can hear blasts from everywhere. All Iraqi officials have fled and we are without any security,” she said.
Joseph said however that the 32 nurses have expressed a willingness to come back and that the state government would pay for their travel expenses and find them seats on a plane.
“But evacuating them is not easy as the roads are damaged and fierce fighting is going on,” he said.
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