All the 40 Indian workers taken captive by ISIS rebels in Iraq are safe, the government said on Friday, even as it facilitated the evacuation of 16 others from the conflict zones of the nation that is veering towards civil war. Several options that are being explored to secure the safe release of the abducted workers were discussed at a high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday morning.
The Ministry of External Affairs said the government is exploring all avenues to get information on the 40 workers but said that no ransom demands have yet been received. On being asked about negotiations with the captors, MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, “We are knocking on all doors, front doors, back doors and even trap doors.”
Informing that all Indians in the violence-torn areas are safe, the spokesperson said that regular talks have been held with the 46 nurses holed up in Tikrit and the 40 abducted workers are also believed to be secure. “This information is coming to us not from one source but from a multiplicity of sources. Based on that I can indicate to you that the Indian nationals who have been abducted remain safe,” the spokesperson said.
The official also said that one of the abducted workers has managed to escape from captivity and is now in touch with Indian officials who are trying to secure his return. “We can confirm to you that one Indian has escaped and is in touch with our embassy in Baghdad,” Syed Akbaruddin said, adding that every effort is being made to resolve the situation. He said eight Indian nationals each have been evacuated from the conflict zones of Baiji and Anbar. They have been flown back to India.
The government has also decided to provide monetary support to any Indian stuck in Iraq who is unable to return due to a lack of funds. Also, emigrations clearances for work in Iraq have been suspended for a month.
The development came on the day of the review meeting that was attended by, among others, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, heads of intelligence agencies as well as senior foeign ministry officials.
The spokesperson said the release of the Indian workers is a matter of high priority for the government and that a daily meeting is being chaired by Sushma Swaraj to monitor the situation. While the Indian mission in Baghdad is trying to get information, all other Indian missions in the region have also been asked to work on the matter. Indian missions in bordering states of Iraq have been approached for a possible land evacuation of any citizens stuck in violence affected parts of Iraq.