Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US senator John McCain discussed the recent crisis in Iraq on Thursday, 46 Indian nurses who were stranded in conflict-hit city of Tikrit have been moved out to an undisclosed location.
Though the ministry of external affairs (MEA) claimed it is in touch with the nurses, it refused to confirm whether they have been shifted by the Sunni militant group — Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) — and where are they headed to.
“The Indian government is in touch with the Indian embassy in Baghdad. We are in touch with the nurses and spoke to them while they were on the move,” MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said here on Thursday while refusing to comment on their exact location.
He, however, admitted some of the nurses did receive minor injuries because of shattering of glasses in the hospital in Tikrit. It seems they were moved on Thursday morning.
The issue was also discussed during a meeting between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Kerela Chief Minister Oommen Chandy here on Thursday.
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On being asked whether the nurses moved out of Tikrit on their own or by ISIS, Akbaruddin stated there is “no free will in conflict zones”, adding fuel to widespread speculations that they could might as well be captured by the militants. “In zones of conflict there is no free will. There are no norms, no rules. I have explained to you that they have been moved. I do not know where their destinations are. They are on the road. They remain unharmed. They are not going on their own free will. Their welfare is now of utmost importance for the government,” he added.
It was last week when the militants seized Tikrit and, hence, the Iraqi government has no control over the region at present.
The spokesperson said India was not alone in working for the safety of its nationals and it has partners “inside and outside Iraq”.
Meanwhile, MEA has given air tickets to nearly 900 Indians to travel out of Iraq. 1,500 Indians want to leave that country and have registered with the ministry. They are facing several issues such as overstay, lack of documentation, lack of residential evidence and cases of illegal entry.