External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday met the family members of the 39 Indians being held hostage in Iraq and assured them that they were safe. She, however, said the government was not in direct touch with the kidnapped and that their immediate evacuation was not possible due to fighting on the streets.
Swaraj told reporters that she had shown relatives of the hostages the message that had come from the Indian ambassador in Iraq. The government itself is not in direct touch with the hostages, but the International Red Crescent, which is in contact, had told the ambassador that they are safe, said Swaraj.
She added, "I spent one and a half to two hours with the family members, listened to each one of them, and have reassured them. The government is doing its best." The minister also conveyed that even if they manage to get in direct touch, immediate evacuation would not be possible because there is fighting on the streets. The family members, she said, were aware of that reality.
Earlier in the day, the EAM met the Indian ambassadors in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia as well as top government officials, including national security advisor Ajit Doval and cabinet secretary Ajit Seth.
The meeting was in New Delhi to discuss the situation in Iraq, assistance to Indians both in the conflict zone and those outside the zone but in Iraq, and review the steps taken so far.
This was followed by a meeting with Gulf ambassadors stationed in New Delhi where the government sought to understand how other regional states viewed developments in Iraq and asked for assistance in rescuing Indians stuck in the conflict zone.
The government has also decided to transfer Indian community welfare funds from the Gulf to India's mission in Iraq, and provide funds to 46 nurses stranded in conflict zone in Tikrit. MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, "They remain safe. We are in touch with them."
On Saturday, Akbaruddin had told reporters that the government is following leads on resolving the hostage crisis. India has opened three mobile camp offices in Basra, Najaf and Karbala and is now in the process of setting up such a unit in Baghdad too.
These units are meant to assist Indian nationals, provide them travel documents if necessary, help with contractual issues and provide air tickets. Swaraj herself called up officials in charge of these units to check on their work and the nature of queries and assistance sought by Indian nationals. The government has sent 26 additional officials to help with efforts in Iraq.