Eight Punjabis, who succeeded in escaping from the strife-torn Iraq, reached home in the JammuTawi-Ahmedabad Express on Wednesday.
While three of them alighted at Jalandhar city railway station, the other five went to their home towns in Mukerian, Batala, Gurdaspur and other places.
With the situation remaining tense in the violence-hit country, where nearly 850 Indians are still stranded, the three from the Doaba belt recounted shocking tales of their stay in Iraq.
Jagatpreet Singh (22), his cousin Kamalpreet Singh (21) of Dhandor village, 19 km from the district headquarters, and Vinod Kumar (35) of Pandori Dhak in Phagwara tehsil of Kapurthala district reached the city railway station. Recounting his woes, Jagatpreet said he along with his cousin and more than 800 Indians, mostly from Punjab, were living in a camp at Najaf city of Iraq for the past few weeks.
“We were given visa as painter by GMS Company at Najaf city but were working with a construction company, which had seized our passports after the ISIS militants attacked cities of Iraq,” he added.
Singh revealed that, “We were forced to work for nearly 30 hours on the trot and were given food once a day. We were in touch with our families and would call them up surreptitiously because we were not allowed to make phone calls from the camp.”
He claimed that two-three Indians, who were known to him, were killed in the war-hit country.
As per Kamalpreet Singh, “Bahut bure haalat ne paji te apne bahut bande hale ve othe fase ne (The conditions in Iraq are worst. Several Indians are still trapped there.)” “I had gone to Iraq three months ago and since the ISIS militants launched the offensive I along with more than 850 Indians was living in the camp of Najaf city,” he said.
A clerk in the company, Ashu, who hailed from Andhra Pradesh, helped them trace their passports and secured their tickets from Iraq to Sharjah and from Sharjah to Ahmedabad, they added.
“I thank the Almighty!” said Jagatpreet’s father Kulwant Singh (55), a farmer, who criticised the Centre for not taking concrete measures to bring the men back.
Sub-divisional magistrate Neeraj Gupta and tehsildar Seema Singh were present to receive the men. The eight men who have reached India include Manjeet Singh, Kuldeep Singh, Baldev Singh, Balvinder Singh, and Hardeep Singh.
Their ordeal didn’t end after they escaped Iraq. As they landed in Ahmedabad, the eight Punjabis didn’t have money for train fare till home. One Ranjeet Singh, who hails from Dinanagar, Gurdaspur, saw them sleeping on a platform. After coming to know of their plight, he bought tickets for them and came along. Singh, retired from CRPF, is a security officer in Ahmedabad. “I purchased tickets for them by paying Rs. 2,700 and helped them for the sake of humanity,” he said.
HARYANA YOUTHS RETURN TOO
KARNAL: After a harrowing experience of nine days in Iraq, three youths from Kurukshetra reached back here on Wednesday.
Dharambir Singh, a resident of Kurukshetra, said he along with 16 others had landed in Iraq on June 16 with the promise of jobs. He alleged that the travel agent had duped them and handed them over to another agent in Basra. “We were shocked to see the violent atmosphere there. Neither the Indian nor the Iraqi authorities had informed us about the ongoing sectarian violence there,” he said.
Dharambir recalled that in Basra, the entire batch of 17 youths was forced to stay in a small room where they were served food once a day.
His associate Satish Kumar from Dab Kheri village claimed that a “gun-wielding mob threatened to kill Indians and slogans to butcher Indians were raised”.
“While we somehow managed to get money from our families, the others had no financial support to buy air tickets and are standard there,” he said.