Air India on Sunday kept three planes on standby for evacuation of Indian nationals in Iraq, even as the government said after a high-level meeting that the 39 abducted Indians were safe. The government also said it was in touch with the 46 Indian nurses stranded in the militant stronghold of Tikrit and that they were unharmed.
The high-level meeting with Indian envoys to Gulf countries was chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and was held to chalk out a strategy to evacuate about 10,000 Indian nationals estimated to be in Iraq.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs said there were around 150 Indians in the zone of conflict out of which about 50 had already left.
The government has also decided to transfer part of the welfare funds in the Indian missions in Gulf countries to its embassy in Baghdad to help facilitate the departure of its nationals.
Official sources said the three Air India planes are ready to leave for Iraq at short notice and that the airline is fully geared up for the evacuation.
Meanwhile, families of the kidnapped Indians met Swaraj, who assured them that the government was taking all steps for the safety and evacuation of their kin.
When asked about the safety of Indians abducted by the rebels in the region, the MEA spokesperson said, “I have no reports since last evening. The last report I have communicated to you that they remain unharmed… we are working on the leads that were provided yesterday (on Saturday).”
He said the Indian nurses in Tikrit are concerned with the gun shot noises in surrounding areas, but are safe. “We have been in touch with the nurses. Their hospital has not been intruded upon,” he said.
On the stranded Indian nationals, the spokesperson said, “At this stage, we are working with them, their companies and the agents who sent them there, to help in bringing them back by commercial flight.”
The first phase of repatriation by commercial flights will begin by tomorrow or latest by flight availability.