As concern grew in India for its citizens trapped in Iraq’s fighting zones, a nurse from Kerala who is currently in a city controlled by Sunni insurgents said that most of them did not want to return yet, and were instead waiting for a chance to move to hospitals in safer areas of the country.
“Of the 46 nurses from Kerala at my hospital, only a dozen are willing to return home. The rest want to continue in Iraq. Once the road network is clear and peace prevails, we will move to other hospitals in the safe zone. The home ministry has promised to help us to work elsewhere in Iraq,” nurse Santy John told The Indian Express from Tikrit, the birth place of Saddam Hussein, which fell to the insurgents last week.
Nurse Santy said all the Indian nurses at her hospital, the Tikrit Teaching Hospital, were safe. However, 15 nurses who reached Tikrit in February were yet to get any salaries, and all the nurses had decided to stop work, she said.
“The ministry says the treasury is under stress due to the war-like situation. Hence, we have decided not to go for duty since last Friday. Although many parts of Tikrit are in trouble, we at the hospital are safe.”
Santy said that even in normal times, nurses were not allowed to go out of the hospital compound. “Thirty one of us who joined the hospital last August, have not seen the world outside the hospital since we enrolled for the job here. We are advised not to go out. We get everything we need at the hostel attached to the hospital,” she said.
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Santy said the nurses had not been impacted by the militant takeover of the hospital.
“We had heard gunshots outside the hospital, and treated many injured. Some of our Iraqi colleagues said a few militants had entered the hospital, but we have not encountered anyone. We had feared that food and water supply would be affected, but so far the situation has been normal within the hospital.
She said nurses who came to Iraq were resigned to facing any situation. “Only those who are in utter crisis come to Iraq. A dozen of us are willing to leave the country only because they have better job offers from other countries. For the rest of us, the option is safe zones in Iraq.” Santy’s husband Lijo works in Amman, Jordan.
Back in Kerala’s Idukki district, Santy’s father John Abraham, a smallscale farmer, is worried for his daughter. “Her education loan of Rs 1.5 lakh had now swollen to Rs 4 lakh. We had spent Rs 1.75 lakh for her visa. She has not got a single month’s salary so far, although the recruiter had promised a monthly salary of Rs 50,000. When debt keeps mounting, how can I insist that my daughter should come back? I want her to return home, but the loan is holding me back,” Abraham said.
From the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, nurse Jinsy, a native of Mananthavady in North Kerala, said the city was peaceful.
“We are not allowed to go outside the hospital premises. We have been assured by the hospital authorities that Nasiriyah would not be affected. But there is still fear that the militants would reach the city,” Jinsy said.
From Kirkuk, 236 km north of Baghdad, nurse Meenu Kurian said the roads outside the General Hospital where she works had remained blocked for many days.
“We are 15 nurses here. There is a special warning to remain indoors due to the militant threat. Doctors and other local staff report for duty. Those who want to return home can do so only after the government grants permission to move out,” she said.
The Kurdistan Regional Government, which refuses to submit to the authority of Baghdad, has tightened its grip on the oil-rich city in the wake of the militant Sunni advance across Iraq.