This image appears to show ISIS militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers dressed in plain clothes after taking over a base in Tikrit, Iraq. (AP/PTI Photo)
Though the Kerala government has offered to pay their return airfare, most of the 46 Kerala nurses stranded in northern Iraq on Wednesday asked the Indian embassy to help them relocate to other middle-east countries.
Speaking to Hindustan Times from the strife-torn Tikrit – that was captured by surging Sunni militants – one of the nurses, Sona Joseph, 24, said since most of them had to pay hefty amounts for their visa and travel papers, it would be difficult for them to return empty-handed now. She also revealed that Indian embassy and Red Cross officials were in touch with them.
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“For the last five days we are confined to our room in Tikrit medical teaching hospital. We hear deafening bombing day and night, but the hospital premises are unaffected. Each time the institute’s gate opens, our heart starts to race,” said Sona, who came to the hospital 10 months ago. She and her sister Dona Jospeh, who is also working at the same institute, had to shell out more than Rs. 3 lakh to a travel agent for coming to Iraq.
“Today, there was a severe water shortage at the hospital, but Red Cross officials came to our rescue. Except stranded workers and the terminally ill, the institute is nearly empty now. Red Cross officials promised to take us to the nearest airport that is 100 km away once peace returns,” she said.
Of the 46 nurses, Sona said, 15 were willing to return to Kerala, while others prefer change of workplace to a relatively peaceful middle-east country.
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Since US and Western forces are planning air strikes in militant-controlled areas, they fear they would be caught in the crossfire.
“As of now Red Cross is our lifeline. It even helps us getting our SIM cards recharged so we can call our relatives and friends. This is a big relief,” Sona revealed, adding that she came to know about the abduction of some Indian workers in Mosul from a relative who called her in the morning.
Back home, anxious family members and friends are holding prayers. With the holy book in hand, Verghese K, 64, spends most of his time at the local church. His daughter Sylvia Verghese had gone to Iraq 14 months ago, and his half-built house stands testimony to this. “I am sure my daughter will return safely,” he said.
Full coverage: Iraq on the brink