NEW DELHI: After two weeks of living in the conflict zone in Iraq, 46 Indian nurses are expected to be back in Kochi on Saturday after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants freed them near the border of the Kurdistan autonomous region, just a day after they were forced to leave a Tikrit hospital under duress.
“I can confirm that the Indian nurses, moved out against their will, are now free. They are in touch with the Indian Embassy officials at Erbil,” said External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin. An embassy team had already been sent there in anticipation of such a happy eventuality. The nurses, most from Kerala, were caught in a siege-like situation, unable to leave their hospital with food and water running out, ever since the al-Qaeda splinter group took over Tikrit.
An Air India Boeing 777 left Delhi to reach Erbil to pick up the nurses, as well as 70 other Indian nurses who had reached the Kurdish city form Kirkuk. The flight is expected to reach Kochi early on Saturday, and then travel to Delhi to drop other passengers, if required.
S K Sinha, joint secretary in the MEA, also travelled in the plane and would coordinate with Kurdish authorities and Indian aviation officials. Besides, a medical team is also on the plane.
Akbaruddin’s announcement capped a day of “dramatic developments”, after information trickled in from the nurses’ families that they had been told by their captors of being released and allowed to reach Erbil.
The Kerala House in Delhi first confirmed the information, with Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s aides revealing that their return was as imminent. Chandy was the first to publicly talk about the good news. At his press conference in Delhi, Chandy said, “The government of India, the embassy in Baghdad and the State government, all worked together and finally we are achieving the objective to bring back the nurses to India.”
Meanwhile, Akbaruddin began his press meet by stating that “hope has triumphed”, and said the “process is underway” to bring the nurses back. He said, “There are no hopeless situations. There are only people who have grown hopeless in situations.” The release of the “nurses just didn’t happen like that” he said and that an “enormous amount of effort was put in both in and outside Iraq” for it.
Express had reported that the External Affairs Minister herself called her Gulf counterparts and Iraq’s neighbours seeking “ground-level assistance”.