Amid mounting concerns over the safety of Indian nationals in war-torn Iraq, it has emerged that those working as nurses in the fallen city of Tikrit are left with no security and there is little the Indian government can do at the moment.
"We are literally leading a life of prisoners. We can't step out of hospital premises. We can hear blasts from everywhere. All Iraqi officials have fled and we are without any security. In fact some of the Red Cross volunteers helped us to recharge our SIM cards," said Marina Jose, a resident of Kottayam.
Around 46 nurses are stuck in hospitals in Tikrit and 41 construction workers in Mosul since the past four days when Sunni Islamist militant group Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (Isis) overran key cities in a crisis the United Nations said was an existential threat to Iraq.
India has requested the International Red Crescent to go across to Tikrit and ensure the nurses’ safety, according to foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbarudin.
A minister in Kerala, however, said there was little the Indian government could do at the moment.
“So far nurses are safe and Indian Embassy officials are in touch with them. Since the situation is volatile we can’t do anything for now,” said non-Kerala resident affairs minister KC Joseph. Most of nurses were recruited to Iraq two years ago.
Some of the nurses said they took hefty loans to get into Iraq and haven't been paid salaries for months together. "I haven't got a salary for two months. And in some cases passports are with sponsors who have already fled," said Soumya Baby.
The Union external affairs said the matter was accorded ‘high priority’. "The situation in Iraq is receiving attention as a high priority. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is monitoring and reviewing the situation of Indian nationals", Akbaruddin said.
Anil Wadhwa, secretary (east) in the ministry, met Iraqi Ambassador Ahmed Derwari in Delhi’s South Block.
Wadhwa is also chairing a crisis management meeting on the Iraq situation to discuss possible ways to provide ground level help to the Indians there, he added.
According to IANS, the Indian government is also keeping its options open for possible evacuation if the situation demands.
In Thiruvananthapuram, Joseph said out of 44, 32 nurses had expressed willingness to come back and the Kerala government “would do everything to ensure their safe return.”
Since road and communication networks were badly damaged, the Indian Embassy has advised them to remain in their hospitals for now, the minister added.
For full coverage, click here: Iraq on the brink