Concern for nurses, workers trapped in the conflict

Forty Indian men working in a construction company in Iraq were abducted by gunmen while they were reportedly trying to flee from Mosul, a city controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said on Wednesday.

“No ransom calls or any other demands have been made by any group to the government so far,” Mr. Akbaruddin said. “We are in touch with officials of Red Crescent, which is the only humanitarian organisation operating in this area of the conflict.”

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj assured the families of the missing men, most of them from Punjab, of the government’s efforts to bring them back safely.

Officials in the Indian Embassy in Baghdad are also in touch with the construction company, Tariq Noor Al Huda, which has been telling the families that they had not been kidnapped but taken to a safe a location in northern Iraq.

New Delhi is helping to facilitate the return of other Indians working in Iraq who wish to return home. But a complex set of factors, including the mushrooming of checkpoints set up by the Sunni tribesmen in tactical alliance with the militants, may hamper the rescue and evacuation operations. Baghdad asked Washington to carry out air strikes on militants in the north.

Official sources said those who had taken over the Tikrit General Hospital, where around 46 Indian nurses, mostly from Kerala, are working, were persuading the trapped health workers to continue their work, though at less wages.

“Those who have seized the hospital do not want it to close down in anticipation of heavier fighting and casualties that they may suffer in the future,” the sources said.

International Committee of the Red Cross officials met the nurses in Tikrit. Speaking from the town of Erbil, ICRC spokesperson Saleh Dabbakeh told The Hindu that the nurses were safe and had adequate food and water supplies.

Mr. Dabbakeh said he had not heard anything about the 40 Indian men, nor could he confirm which group may be holding the men. Determining their exact location is difficult because communication links in the general area of their detention have snapped. However, sources said the detainees appeared to have been moved to a cotton factory within 30 kilometres of Mosul.

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