For the second consecutive day, Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth chaired a high-level meeting aimed at drawing up a firm evacuation plan for around 2,000 people in strife-torn Iraq, which is roughly one-fifth of the estimated number of Indians there.
Significantly, it has been decided that a second team from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) be sent to Iraq to assess the ground situation as well as the number of Indian nationals who are willing to return.
The evacuation proposal — the blueprint of which is expected to be briefed to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday — envisages, to begin with, the use of two IAF transporters and two Air India planes. Diplomatic sources said the possibility of an airport in Turkey being used as a parking bay or logistical base before the Indian carriers land in Baghdad has also been discussed.
Besides the Cabinet Secretary, the three service chiefs, the heads of intelligence agencies and Civil Aviation Secretary Ashok Lavasa were present at the review meetings.
An official present said, “Once the MEA has issued an advisory and few have returned back via commercial flights, the government has to have a firm plan on the drawing board. Evacuation will however only begin if the MEA feels there is a surge of requests of Indians willing to return; if their relatives step up pressure on the government or if the situation deteriorates”.
The fact that about 100 Indian nationals are trapped in Mosul and Tikrit — cities which have been overrun by the ISIS — and the possibility of a sudden conflagration around Baghdad is what saw the presence of the three service chiefs at the crisis control meetings.
It is understood that the IAF has now been asked to keep their 130J transporters on “standby” and the aviation secretary has been asked to similarly be ready to use the Air India fleet if the contingency plan has to be set in motion at short notice.
The government’s move comes at a time when several other countries, including Bangladesh, have drafted their own evacuation plans for Iraq and when China, for one, has begun evacuation of its workers from the conflict zone.
More Indian nurses want to return home
Thiruvananthapuram: More Indian nurses stranded in Sunni militant-controlled Tikrit want to return home even though a representative of the “new regime” repeatedly visited them, promising safety and job at a local teaching hospital where they are currently stuck. Forty-six Indian nurses, most of them from Kerala, have been languishing in hostels attached to Tikrit Teaching Hospital for two weeks after ISIS rebels overran the town. Initially, only 15 of them were willing to return to India and others, who got the job in February, wanted to move to hospitals in safe zones. ENS