Against the news of the killing of 39 Indians who had been abducted by the Islamic State in Iraq four years ago, the survival of 46 Indian nurses stands out as a story in contrast. Abducted by the IS around the same period, the nurses were rescued from Tikrit. At least 22 of them have flown back to work in hospitals in safer parts of the Middle East. Among the rest, some are making efforts to travel abroad again, according to sources.
Held hostage in a hospital at Tikrit in June 2014, the nurses were rescued and brought back to families in the first week of July. As stories of the abruptly end to their dreams played out on the media, the Kerala government approached hospitals in the Middle East to recruit the nurses.
Among the nurses were twins Sona Joseph and Veena, 28, hailing from Ettumanoor in Kottayam district. Both have managed to go back to the Middle East – to Saudi Arabia. “In 2014 itself, 22 of us got selected by various hospitals in the Gulf. Later, half a dozen have moved out of Kerala with the help of recruiting agencies,” said Sona.
Sona, who worked in various hospitals in Kottayam after returning from Iraq, has now been in Saudi Arabia for six months, while Veena has been there for two years now. “None of us has dared go back to Iraq or other strife-torn areas. What else we can do other than leaving Kerala, where nurses are paid poorly? Only because of the better package abroad are many of us still repaying the loans we took to study nursing.”
Joshmi Francis, of Thodupuzha in Idukki, said she had cleared tests conducted by the Oman government, but could not go. “Now, I am working in a private hospital in Thodupuzha due to family constraints. A few of us are still trying to move out. A few of the 46 nurses have stopped working after getting married,” said Joshmi.
Alice Jose, a homemaker at Rajakkadu village in Idukki, said her daughter Neethu has overcome an initial struggle. “After returning from Iraq, Neethu got recruited in a hospital in Abu Dhabi, in 2014 itself. She married a nurse a year ago; they are now settled in Abu Dhabi, We think the days of ordeal are over. Neethu had repaid her education loan,” Alice said.
Vidya K Viswan, of Pathanamthitta, said she tried to go back to the Middle East after returning from Iraq, but had to put off the plan when she got married last year. Now, she is working in a private hospital in Pathanamthitta.
Shalini T S, now working in Abu Dhabi, said most of the nurses who had been working in Iraq hailed from economically weaker families. “We have now managed to turn around our lives. I have cleared all debts and am now helping my mother and sister in Pathanamthitta district,” she said.
All 46 nurses had got their salary dues cleared from the Tikrit hospital within six months after returning.