Amid slogans by the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress workers outside the Cochin International Airport terminal, 46 nurses from Kerala who were held hostage by militants in Iraq, returned home on Saturday.
The aircraft that carried the nurses landed at 11.55 am. Hundreds of people had gathered to receive them. Relatives of the nurses, including Rantnamma, mother of the lone nurse from Tamil Nadu, had reached the airport early in the morning.
The aircraft took off from Erbil Airport in Iraq with 70 other Indian workers and reached Mumbai at 8.45 am. After refueling, it flew to Kochi.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was present along with ministers, P J Joseph, K Babu and V S Shivakumar. The state administration had made elaborate arrangements. Four exclusive airport counters and a medical team were were at the nurses’ disposal. All 46 nurses expressed gratitude to the central and the state governments for their intervention in releasing them from the custody of a group of ISIS militants.
Chandy thanked External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for her efforts. The state government announced a Rs 5,000 award to each nurse. The chief minister said the government was considering their rehabilitation.
Twelve of the nurses are from Kottayam, and others from districts like Ernakulam, Palakkad, Idukki, Kannur and Kasargode. SUT Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram has offered them jobs.
Parents of most of the nurses said they did not wish to send their daughters outside India again. The nurses said the militants treated them well and gave them food, water and shelter.
Chandy hinted that two Malayalee businessmen with interests in Iraq and Saudi Arabia had helped the government rescue the nurses. The external affairs ministry spokesman said India had adopted “unconventional” diplomatic routes, but did not divulge details.