A Kerala nurse working in Libya and her 18-month-old son were killed in a rocket attack on their flat in Zawiya city, 45 km from capital Tripoli, on Friday evening.
The victims were identified as Sunu Sathyan, 29, and son Pranav. Sunu’s husband, Vipin Kumar, 38, also a nurse, escaped as he had stepped out to buy provisions.
The couple hailed from Veliyanoor village in Kerala’s Kottayam district, home to hundreds of nurses working in the country or abroad.
Kumar’s brother Thulaseedharan said Kumar had told him that Sunu and he had just returned to their flat after their day’s work when the blast happened. It was not immediately clear who fired the rocket.
Thulaseedharan said Kumar had told him a neighbour may have hit their house by accident. “He said Sunu and Pranav were in the bedroom. Two Libyan natives living in nearby flats allegedly had a fight and one of them hurled an object, which accidentally fell into their flat.
The object immediately exploded, killing the mother and the son,” he said.
Hours earlier, Sunu had talked to her relatives in Kerala online, Thulaseedharan, a retail trader, added
PTI said Sunu’s father Sathyan Nair had appealed to the government to help them get the bodies back, adding that the family back home was yet to even meet Pranav. Nair works with a restaurant at Ramapuram in Kottayam.
The families came to know about the blast when fellow Keralites working in Libya called them on Saturday morning. They told Thulaseedharan that Kumar had been taken to a place where a few others from Kottayam stay.
Kumar has been working as a nurse in Libya since 2010. Sunu, who worked as a nurse in Delhi for two years, and he got married in August 2012. A few months later, both left for Libya, and Sunu joined the same hospital as nurse where her husband worked. There are more than 20 Indians working at that hospital in Zawiya.
The two had stuck on through the civilian strife in Libya, family members say, as the city where they lived had not reported any major problem. However, for the past few months, Sunu and Kumar had reportedly been talking of returning home and were trying to get tickets. Their families say the hospital management was not giving back their documents, which had delayed their return.
Thulaseedharan also said that while Kumar and Sunu had been getting their salary from the hospital, they had been unable to send savings home for want of foreign money exchanges in Libya.
“Two years back, when hundreds of nurses returned from Libya, we advised them to quit the country. But they decided to stick on as their area was free from any incident. So far there was no threat in their region,’’ Sajesh Sashi, a neighbour in Kottayam, said.
On Saturday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made a fresh appeal urging Indians in conflict zones to move out. “We have issued advisories many times. I request you once again,” she said.
Non-Resident Keralites Affairs (NORKA) Minister K C Joseph said several persons from Kerala, particularly nurses, are still working in Libya. “After yesterday’s tragedy, we have identified 12 persons. During the evacuation exercise in 2014, we had asked them to return, but they decided to stay back.”
While the government would do its best to get back those who wanted to return from Libya, Joseph said, “India has only a skeletal machinery in that country to help these people.”
NORKA CEO R S Kannan said the government has no figures about the number of Keralites still working in Libya. “We have always warned against staying back in the trouble-torn country. Now many have started going to Libya despite government warnings. Such job-seekers in Libya do not inform NORKA, fearing that we would stop them from going,” said Kannan.
Sources in the nursing sector said nurses from poor families are going back to war-ravaged countries as there are no jobs in Kerala.
Five years after the uprising that led to the ouster and killing of autocrat Muammar Gaddafi, Libya remains caught in civil war. It is ruled by an internationally recognised government and parliament based in the east, but there is a rival government and parliament in Tripoli backed by Islamist-allied militias.