Sixteen Indians stranded in violence-affected areas of Iraq have been evacuated even as one of the 40 abducted Indians has fled from the captors in Mosul town which is under the control of the militants.
The developments came on a day Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the situation at a high-level meeting which was attended by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, heads of intelligence and security agencies as well as senior officials of External Affairs Ministry.
External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said the meeting reviewed the “entire dimensions” of the situation taking into consideration all facts and information available to the government.
“We can confirm to you that one Indian has escaped and is in touch with our embassy in Baghdad,” Akbaruddin said.
The 40 Indians, who were working in a construction project, were abducted in Mosul which was seized by Sunni militant group ISIS.
He said the abducted Indians are safe and noted that the government was making “every effort so that it is resolved at the earliest.”
Asked about negotiations with the militants, the spokesperson said, “We are knocking on all doors, front doors, back doors and trapped doors.”
Eight Indians have been evacuated from Baiji while eight others were moved out from Anbar. They have since been flown out of Baghdad.
Iraq is witnessing serious strife with Sunni militants, backed by Al-Qaida, capturing two key cities and marching towards Baghdad. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced in the fighting that broke out on June 10.
Akbaruddin said Indian officials were in regular touch with the nurses trapped in a hospital.
There is electricity in the hospital and arrangements for food have been made. Nobody intruded the hospital and they felt that the situation there was “quiet” as there was no gunfire, he said.
“We are making every efforts so that it is resolved at the earliest,” he said refusing to share more details on an “extremely sensitive operation”.
He said at least 120 Indians were trapped in strife-torn areas which included 46 nurses in Tikrit and those kidnapped in Mosul. 16 have already been moved out of Anbar and Baiji.
The Indian mission in Baghdad was in touch with various other diplomatic misions there to coordinate efforts to rescue the Indians.
The government has also decided to provide financial assistance through Indian Community Welfare Fund to those Indians who are indigent and want to return to India.
India has also requested Iraq to lift restriction on the visa norm that if a person comes to the country through a port of entry then he will have to go back though the same port of entry. He said India hoped that the matter will be sorted out in a day’s time.
“This has caused some concerns to those of our nationals who have come through certain ports of entry but would like to go through other ports of entry. We have taken this up with the Iraqi authorities who are amenable to our request,” Akbaruddin said.
The issue has been taken up with Iraqi authorities so that trapped Indians can cross Iraqi border to neighbouring countries through nearest land boundary.
Instructions have also been issued to Indian missions in countries around Iraq to take up the matter with their host governments to facilitate movement by those who wish to cross the land boundary from nearest place of their stay.
“We have informed all our missions in the region to work on this matter with their respective governments to ensure that in case people want to cross land boundary they should be assisted,” Akbaruddin said.
The government has also stopped issuing immigration clearance for travel to Iraq for next one month.