Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling for immediate steps to evacuate Indians stranded in Iraq. An Air India flight should be arranged for evacuation of Indians, he said.

The Chief Minister noted in a letter to the Prime Minister that 46 Indian nurses, 44 of them from Kerala, were forced to work at the Tikrit General Hospital at low wages and without sufficient food, he said. The hospital authorities had asked for compensation from nurses wishing to leave the country. However, they could not afford to pay the compensation. The Indian Embassy should intervene to settle the matter. The help of the United Nations and the Red Cross should also be sought, Mr. Chandy said.

Minister for Labour Welfare and Welfare of Non-residents, K. C. Joseph told the Assembly that the Chief Minister had urged the Centre to bear the cost of evacuation of the nurses. If not, the State government was willing to pay for their travel. Of the 44 Kerala nurses in Tikrit, 36 persons wanted to return. Eight persons did not want to leave as they had to get their salary arrears. Kerala nurses working at a hospital in Bhagdhad also wanted to return.

The Minister said that a four-hour journey was required from Tikrit to the airport. Currently, it was not safe to travel through that route. Hence, evacuation might have to wait.

Replying to the debate in the House on the demand for grants for Labour, Mr. Joseph said that the government was setting up an online data bank to collate information on Malayalis working in different countries. About 59 per cent of the overseas Malayalis were working as nurses.

The State government would press the authorities to facilitate online voting by Indian citizens abroad in elections. The government also wanted to bring down fee charged by educational institutions for student admissions under NRI quota.

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