Govt to ensure safe return of Indians from Iraq: Sushma Swaraj

Govt to ensure safe return of Indians from Iraq Sushma SawrajNEW DELHI: Government today assured Rajya Sabha that it will “leave no stone unturned” for the safe return of Indian nationals in captivity in Iraq as members raised serious concern over the plight of stranded workers from India in that country.

“The safety and security of Indian nationals, especially 41 Indian nationals in captivity in Mosul, is a matter of foremost concern and pre-occupation for us. We are leaving no stone unturned for their safe return,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told Rajya Sabha replying to a Calling Attention motion of K C Tyagi (JD-U).

Noting that the government remains “deeply concerned” over the ongoing conflict and deteriorating security scenario in Iraq resulting out of sudden attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), she assured the House “it would remain the earnest endeavour of our government to assist every Indian citizen currently in Iraq and ensure their safe return”.

Reading out her reply amid noisy scenes in the House over the UPSC row, she said the government fully shares the concerns of members regarding the recent developments in Iraq and safety and security of Indian nationals stranded there.

“The Government of India has been regularly and closely monitoring the security situation in Iraq. Since the onset of crisis in Iraq, we have regularly issued travel advisories for our nationals, including on June 15, 24 and 28.

“Indian nationals have been advised to avoid all travel to Iraq, until further notification and a ban has been imposed by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs on emigration to Iraq by ECR category travellers effective June 19 this year,” she said.

Swaraj said there were an estimated 22,000 Indians in Iraq at the onset of the conflict.

“This included 500 in Baghdad, 2300 in Najaf, 1000 in Karbala, 3000 in Basra, 15,000 in Kurdistan and 200 in other cities. Some Indians got trapped in the conflict areas following these sudden attacks,” she said. . Swaraj also referred to the safe return of a group of 46 nurses working in a local hospital in the city of Tikrit, who had got stuck due to the conflict and were taken to Mosul on July 3 by an unidentified group.

“On July 4, they were released and a special Air India flight was arranged the same day to bring them back to India,” she said.

Regarding the Mosul captivity, she said, “Another group of about 41 Indian nationals working in a construction company in Mosul were taken captives by an unidentified group. The government is making all efforts and taking all steps to secure their release as well.”

Swaraj said government has reiterated its advice to Indian nationals living in Iraq to leave the country by commercial means if it is safe to do so.

“Our nationals living in areas affected by the ongoing armed conflict have been advised to stay indoors as far as possible and to remain in contact with our embassy in Baghdad for necessary guidance and updated information on the evolving security situation.

“Those Indian nationals, who do not have travel documents or need other consular services like air tickets, help with immigration clearance etc have been asked to seek assistance from our embassy in Baghdad,” she said.

On steps taken by the government of India, she said that 24-hour helplines in dedicated control rooms have been set up by the Indian embassy in Baghdad and the ministry since June 15 to assist Indian nationals in Iraq and their family members in India.

Besides, the government has set up special camp offices in Basra, Najaf and Karbala, which are proactively contacting Indian nationals and companies where they work offering their services to facilitate them return, she said.

“While we prepare ourselves to meet any emergency situation, as of now, we remain engaged in facilitating our nationals in safer areas in Iraq to return home by providing all assistance including, travel, documents and air tickets.

“As of August 2, over 4900 Indian nationals have been provided assistance for travelling back to India, including air tickets to over 3900 nationals, since the setting up of the camp offices,” she said.–PTI