New Delhi: The Indians in captivity in Iraq are unharmed, the government said yesterday after establishing contact with the workers who were rounded up by suspected Sunni militants in Mosul town in the violence-hit Gulf nation.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said that contact has been established with the Indians in captivity in Iraq. “We can confirm that all Indians are unharmed,” he said. Contact with the around 40 abducted Indians was established on Thursday night.
The Indians, who belong mostly to Punjab and Haryana state, were working in Mosul as construction workers, and as drivers or sanitary workers. They were abducted around a week ago by suspected militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, who have overrun large parts of northern Iraq, taken over Mosul and Tikrit and are advancing towards Baghdad.
According to sources, the Indian government is aware of the identity of the captors who have taken the Indians hostage. The Indians are being given food but the sources added that “there is no safety in captivity”.
The sources also discounted the Amnesty report that several hundred Indians are stranded in Najaf. The Indian embassy has contacted the Indians there and conveyed to them that those who want to return to India would be helped to do so.
The Indian mission would help the workers with obtaining passports to return, as their passports would have been taken away by the employers under the labour laws there. But, the sources added that they would not be able to help the Indians with their contractual obligations under which most would have to forfeit their pay for wanting to return home.
“We will help those Indians who want to come back in every way, whether from Basra, or Najaf, which are far from the conflict zone. But we cannot do anything about the contracts they would have signed with their employers, or the salary they might have to forfeit,” the sources added. All the eight Indians who were in Baiji, where fighting is raging between the Sunni militants and the Iraqi government forces, have been evacuated to safer zones.
In Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, there are around 1,350 Indians. Kurdistan is peaceful and relatively untouched by the violence raging elsewhere. Around 49 of the Indians have said they want to return home, while in Najaf 28 Indians said they want to go back, the source added.
With no flights between Baghdad and Tikrit and Mosul, the only way to evacuate the Indians would be by the land route, which has its own risks. The nearest airport from Mosul is located in Erbil, nearly 90km away, and is the capital of Kurdistan region. Once the Indians are brought to Erbil, flying them out of Iraq would be no problem.
One of the Indians, who escaped from the captivity of the abductors, was in “complete safety” and had reached Baghdad. His debriefing was on. Sources said no demand for ransom had been received from the abductors. It is understood that India is in touch with countries in the region like Saudi Arabia, to urge them to assist in freeing the Indians.
A Bharatiya Janata Party delegation met Iraqi Ambassador to India Ahmad Tahseen Ahmad Berwari and urged that Indians stranded in various cities in Iraq be helped to return home safely. The envoy told the delegation that Mosul was not under the control of his government. However, the 40 Indians in the custody of militants were safe, he confirmed.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi headed a high level meeting on the safety of the Indians in captivity.