Several hundred Indian nationals may be stranded in the Najaf province of Iraq, unable to return home because their employer refuses to return their passports, Amnesty International said on Saturday.
With fighting between state forces and armed groups intensifying and affecting civilians across Iraq, the stranded Indian workers could be facing rising dangers, it said in a statement here.
All the workers are reportedly employed with an infrastructure and construction company, the statement said adding that Amnesty International India spoke with some of these workers, who said they have not been paid salaries for the past five months.
It quoted one of the migrant workers, telling them over the phone: “The employer holds all our passports and refuses to return them. We have been restricting ourselves to the company premises since the conflict began because we are scared.
Without our passports we can’t leave this country, and every passing day makes us feel more and more unsafe. We just want to go home.”
The worker was quoted as saying that they had raised this concern with the Indian Embassy in Baghdad, which asked them to provide their passport details via text message. The workers sent the details on June 19 and are now awaiting a
Another worker at the company said: “I have been working here for over two years and my employer is withholding more than USD 1500 of my salary. Most of my colleagues are in the same situation.”
The statement said that Amnesty International India called the main telephone lines of the construction company as well as the mobile phones of three of its managers on June 20, but could not speak to anyone for response over allegations
being made by some of their workers against them.
It welcomed the Indian government’s initiatives to evacuate stranded workers quickly and urged it to pay special attention to migrant workers who may have had to handover their passports and other travel documents to their employers.
Migrant workers, including those from India, are among the most vulnerable groups in Iraq as fighting between government forces and armed groups led by ISIS spreads to other areas in the country.
Around 46 Indian nurses are trapped in a hospital in the city of Tikrit, which is controlled by armed groups. There are reports that ISIS and other armed groups have abducted 40 Indian workers in the city of Mosul.