Emotional reunion for brave nurses

Surviving bombs, bullets and captors

Kochi: All the 46 Malayali nurses, who were taken as captives in war-torn Iraq by extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) for more than 48 hours from the morning of July 3, reached home safely in a specially commissioned Air India Flight, A1-160, which touched down at the Cochin International Airport at Nedumbassery at 11.57 a.m. on Saturday, five hours behind schedule. The young nurses, who had survived bombs, bullets and captors, were given a triumphant and emotional welcome at the airport.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his wife Mariamma Oommen received the nurses. Ministers PJ Joseph, V Sivakumar, Parliament members Innocent, P I Rajeev and a slew of other political leaders were present in the airport to receive the evacuees. The customs and emigration formalities were completed in 20 minutes and as the freed nurses came into the lounge little Mervin, eldest son of Merina Jose one of the 46 nurses broke free from the clutches of his father to run towards his mother crying “Amma, Amma”. Meeting their near and dear ones was too overwhelming an experience for the young nurses that many were seen attempting to somehow avoid having to answer persistent queries by the media.

“We are too tired,” a nurse said. “Please, let us go home,” another said. Some were crying, some were locked in long embraces with their loved ones, some just could not stop smiling.

The ordeal of the 46 staff nurses started on July 3 morning when the heavily armed Sunni fighters forced them out of their hospital and took them to Mosul from Tikrit. (The hospital exploded an hour after they were taken out.) The seven-hour bus journey ended in a dusty gutted warehouse without electricity. The English-speaking captors served them water, biscuits, juice and bread. “Not just food, they gave us respect too. Though we felt insecure we knew that these people will not harm us,” a nurse said.

On Friday afternoon they were taken to Erbil to be handed over to the India Embassy officials. The nurses waited for nearly five hours at Erbil for the arrival of Indian embassy officials to catch the flight captained by Commander VN Bambale.

A weary-looking Chandy, who along with External Affairs Minister Sushama Swaraj, played a crucial role in the mission, was seen interacting with family members of the nurses he was in constant touch for the past three weeks.

The NORKA and the state government had kept ready 20 vehicles to take the returnee nurses to their homes in different parts of the state. The maximum hailed from Kottayam district (17), followed by Kannur (seven), Idukki (seven) and Pathanamthitta (four) among others.

The Boeing 777 aircraft took off from Erbil airport in friendly Kurd territory at 4.10 am and after a four-and-a-half hour flight reached Mumbai at 8.43 am. After refueling, the plane left for Kochi at 9.55 am and reached its destination at 11.57 pm. It again left for Hyderabad with 100 more evacuees from Iraq an hour later.

( Source : dc correspondent )
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