KOCHI: After about a month's long ordeal in the strife torn Iraq, 46 Indian nurses returned to their homeland today with most of them vowing not to go back risking their lives.
"We will not go back. There is no question of going back. We are not prepared to endanger our lives once again", said Sandra Sebastian, who arrived at the Kochi airport along with 45 other nurses to a warm and emotional welcome from Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and their relatives.
Sandra, hailing from neighbouring Kottayam district, said she had gone to Iraq on August 16 last year. Since the past four months she along with other nurses have not received salaries from the Government Tikrit Training Hospital where they were working.
"Earlier, we were a batch of 23 nurses and then 15 more joined us in February this year" she said.
On being held captive by ISIS militants, Sandra and Neenu Jose, another nurse, said though they had been asked to move out earlier, they refused to do so as the Indian Embassy had not given them permission to do so, she said.
However, on July 3, they were given only 15 minutes time to pack their bag and leave by the militants.
"They told us that you are all our sisters. You would not be harmed. But we did not believe them", Sandra said, adding, some armed doctors also travelled with them during the seven hours journey from from Tikrit to Mosul. They left the hospital at 12 pm in four buses and reached Mosul by 7 PM. "They were given food and bed to sleep on," Neenu said.
Suni Mol Chacko from Kannur said "they cannot be called terrorists. They are part of the local government".
The families of all the nurses, who had come in large numbers to receive their daughters, were moist eyed as they hugged and kissed them.
Elanji Balakrishnan from Ernakulam, said his daughter, Renu had gone to Iraq in August last year. The family had to take Rs 2 lakh loan to send her and she had not received salary for the past three months, he said.
"I had to mortgage 48 cents of land and my house to send my daughter to Iraq", the frail Balakrishnan said.
Our main focus was to see them come back home safely, now will think about their rehabilitation. The Centre has... http://t.co/l2TwV3mvCR— Oommen Chandy (@Oommen_Chandy) July 5, 2014
A relief that words can't express. Welcoming the nurses at Nedumbasseri Airport, Kochi http://t.co/cTcnhjOID5— Oommen Chandy (@Oommen_Chandy) July 5, 2014
All the nurses and their families thanked Chandy and Central government for all the help in ensuring their safe return to India. Of the 46 nurses, 45 hail from various districts of Kerala and one belongs to Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu. They said the militants treated them well.
Mareena from Kottayam was all in tears as she hugged and kissed her two-year-old daughter Reya and son Merin, whom she was meeting after 11 months. She said they were well looked after by the ISIS and had no complaints.
Shantamma, mother of Shalini, said her daughter had gone to Tikrit five months ago after taking Rs 5 lakh loan. The family is worried.
Chandy who arrived here late last night, received the nurses at the airport and the airport authorities ensured speedy completion of emigration and customs formalities. Media personnel had a tough time as they were not allowed anywhere inside the International arrival lounge.
Airport sources said besides Chandy, Health minister V S Shivakumar, PWD minister Irabhim Kunju, Chalakudy MP and Malayalam actor Innocent and Kottayam MP Jose K Mani were present at the airport.
Though most of them looked travel weary, there were tears of joy as they spotted their near and dear ones.
As soon as they saw Chandy, they said 'Thank You', 'Thank You'.
NORKA (Non Resident Keralites Association) officials had put up two counters to provide all help to the nurses. The nurses were given Rs 5000 each and offered free taxies to reach their homes.
Children from Janseva Shishu Bhavan, holding placards 'Stop War', politicians cutting across parties, and members of Nursing Associations were seen at the airport to welcome the nurses.
Seventeen of the nurses are from Kottayam district, 7 each from Kannur and Idukki districts and rest belong to other parts of the state.