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46 nurses safe in Iraq; will reach India today

Forty-six Indian nurses who were earlier taken into custody by Sunni insurgents in Iraq will return to India by Saturday morning, according to latest information available from various sources.

According to a PTI report, a spokesperson of the external affairs ministry said in New Delhi, “I can confirm that the Indian nurses moved out against their will are free. They are in touch with the Indian Embassy officials at Erbil.”  Erbil in north Iraq is the capital of Kurdistan region of the Arab Gulf country.

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has confirmed this information and said all the nurses are “safe”. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other Sunni Muslim militant groups have seized towns and cities across Syria and Iraq in a lightning advance.

The nurses were sent to Erbil Airport on Friday from a camp at Mosul where they were kept on Thursday night. They were set to return to India on Friday night, Chandy said.

An Air India aircraft is likely to fly to Erbil to bring the nurses and two high-level officials. It is learnt Rachna Shaw, deputy resident commissioner of Kerala in Delhi, will escort the team, representing the Kerala government.  It is likely that the nurses will reach Kochi directly from Erbil but it is not yet confirmed.

Erbil is located roughly 80 km from Mosul, where the nurses reached on Thursday night after being forced out of their hospital in Tikrit. They were taken into custody by the insurgents on Thursday afternoon and sent to Mosul.

They reached Mosul by midnight. Siona Thomas, one of the nurses, contacted her father in Palakkad on Friday morning and informed him the terrorists had assured to  send them to Erbil airport. She said a leader of the armed group had asked them to get ready to return to India shortly. She added the terrorists were not hostile and gave them food and water.

They had also provided a safe place to rest on Thursday night. They were also allowed to talk over phone with their family members and Ajish, another nurse in Iraq, who frequently contacts the nurses and gives information to the government. Two of the nurses suffered minor injuries when the insurgents attacked the hospital.

The Kerala chief minister said the latest development was a result of the combined efforts of the Kerala and central governments. He held several rounds of discussion with the External Affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj who held talks with the overseas ministers of various Gulf Countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar  and UAE for the rescue of the nurses. It is learned that Indian aircraft are also ready at Dubai, New Delhi and Mumbai airports  for the return of the nurses. According to information except one, all other nurses are from Kerala only. The other one is from Tuticorin, in Tamilnadu.  

Chandy expressed confidence about the safe return of the nurses after meeting External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj early  this  morning.  A high-level crisis management group under the leadership of Sushma Swaraj has been formed.

Terrorists had blown fire into the hospital in which the nurses were working. For the last three  weeks  the hospital was under the control of the terrorists group and nurses were not allowed to go out. The Indian embassy had not taken serious steps to ‘save’ them and when contacted they were asked to stay at the hospital, alleged a nurse  Sona Joseph.  She said that the Indian Embassy should have saved  them earlier but it did not act quickly, which deteriorated the situation and led to their capture. Thomas Joseph, father of a nurse from Kottayam told Business Standard that the terrorists had repeatedly asked them to clear from the hospital and move to a safe place. He said that most of the nurses had gone to Iraq by giving lakhs of rupees to the recruiting agents. So they tried to stay back, anticipating that the crisis would be resolved.

Now I just want the life of my daughter, he said. He said that his daughter had gone to Iraq one year ago. Several of her friends had mobilised the large sums by pledging houses and properties, he said. “So when she returns our position will be in trouble. The government should intervene,” he added.

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