Even as Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal makes frantic appeals everyday to Punjabis stranded in Iraq to come back and promises to bear all travel expenses, many youths have called up back home to say that on the ground nothing is being done by the Indian authorities.
Harjinder Singh, a 28-year-old man from Hussainpur Bole village in Sultanpur Lodhi, told HT on phone from Iraq that he has been stuck along with eight other Indians, most of them from Punjab, in Al-Mansour district of Baghdad for more than two weeks “but no help has come from anywhere”. “I have also called up my parents back home in India asking them to approach the Punjab government so that we can return. But even their efforts seem have gone waste. All we want is that the Indian authorities should arrange for our travel documents and air tickets,” he said.
They also disclosed that all of them have been staying and working in Iraq illegally as their visas had expired months ago.
Others stuck along with Harjinder include Mohinder Singh, 35, from Mallan village in Muktsar; Prem Singh, 34, from Rama Mandi in Jalandhar; Sukhdeep Singh, 32, Virk village in Gurdaspur; Jaspal Singh, 28, from Gurdaspur; Sandeep Singh, 26, from Jalandhar; Yuvraj Singh, 25, from Lohian Khas in Jalndhar; Monu from Amritsar; and Ravi Kumar, 30, from Palampur, Himachal Pradesh.
Prem and Jaspal said they work for Delta Korick company that deal in mobiles and hotel services. As soon as the violence broke out in Iraq last month, “the owner of the company just disappeared”. The company offices are locked and there are only a couple of security personnel guarding the building.
About 10 days ago there was a major bomb blast on the compound of the factory that has scared them.
“We tried to approach the Indian embassy in Baghdad. But we were apprehended by the Iraqi army in Baghdad while we were on our way. The army men took $700 to 800 from each one of us to set us free,” Harjinder said, adding that they are now hiding. They even approached a local travel agent who asked for $300 each to ensure return to India. “Most of us don’t have money but we are desperate to come back home,” said Sukhdeep.
Congress MLA from Sultanpur Lodhi, Navtej Singh Cheema, said he had also received many calls from Iraq and even parents of some of the youths had approached him. “This is the time when the Punjab government should actually walk the talk instead of making hollow statements,” Cheema said.