Iraq crisis: Trying to establish direct contact with stranded Indians, says Sushma Swaraj

PTI  | Deccan Chronicle

Nation, Politics

According to the EAM, there are around 100 Indians stuck in the conflict zone

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with MoS External Affairs, General (Retd.) V.K. Singh during a meeting to discuss the problems faced by Indians workers in Gulf countries, in New Delhi on Sunday. Photo: PTI

New Delhi: With deepening Iraq violence, India on Sunday decided to transfer part of welfare funds in the Indian missions in Gulf countries to its embassy in Baghdad to be used for helping Indians in the conflict-hit country where it is facilitating departure of 10,000 nationals.

This decision was taken at a meeting, which was chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, of top Indian envoys to the Gulf countries to chalk out future strategy for safety and evacuation of nationals in Iraq.

Swaraj also met the families of Indians kept captive in the region. After meeting the families, Swaraj said that she had told them the details of her communication with the Red Cressent in Iraq and also read out the written message of Indian ambassador to the family members.

"It is natural for the families to be concerned. I showed them the letter from our ambassador there, which says the Indians in Iraq are safe," Swaraj said.

"We are in touch with them through Red Crescent, but we have not been able to establish direct contact with them so far, as there is constant firing on the streets. We are trying to get in touch with them directly," she said.

“I made them read the written communication (to the government) from the ambassador. They are satisfied with the written message of the ambassador," she said.

Briefing reporters about her meeting with the envoys, an MEA spokesperson said the focus of the meeting was to get "the assessment of the ambassadors in the region about the development" and also to get information in terms of assistance that can be provided to Indian nationals in Iraq from various other Gulf countries.

"The External Affairs Minister has now decided that certain part of the Indian Community Welfare Funds available for our missions in the Gulf will be used for assisting Indian nationals in Iraq," the spokesperson said.

"She has already given this instruction and understand that since her instruction earlier this morning, funds have been transferred from two Indian missions to our mission in Baghdad.”

"So there is adequate funding is available for our activities in mission in Baghdad to assist Indian nationals -- what we called the facilitation phase of our assistance programmes there," he said.

The minister after receiving inputs from Indian ambassadors in the region had a detailed discussions with ambassadors of Gulf countries posted here to get their understanding of the situation as well as to know that what kind of help can be provided by their countries.

Among Gulf countries, ambassadors from Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were present at the meeting.

Read: Iraq crisis: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj meets Gulf envoys

The External Affairs Ministry said India's "national assets" are being kept ready to evacuate the Indian nationals if an emergency situation arises.

"While at this stage, air connectivity is available. However, should it arrive, all national assets are now in readiness," the spokesperson said.

The ministry said there were approximately 150 Indians in the zone of conflict and more than 50 had already left. "As of now in the zone of conflict, they are less than 100 Indians," the spokesperson said.

Asked about the safety of Indians abducted by the rebels, he said, "I have no report since last evening. The last evening's report I have communicated to you... that they remain unharmed. They are in captivity. We have got some leads on them and we are working on the leads."

He said the Indian nurses in Tikrit "remain concerned because of noises and fighting going on in surrounding areas but as of now they remain safe". "We are in contact with them," he said.

"...we have been in touch with the nurses just a few hours ago. Also they remain unhurt. Their hospital has not been intruded upon.

"There is some shortages in terms of funds for getting their essential provisions and we have provided those funds through our contact in that region. So there is no shortage in terms of availability of funds," he said.

The spokesperson said Swaraj herself contacted each of the Indian officials deputed in Iraq to check what sort of information is being requested by the Indian nationals and what are their responses.

"The External Affairs Minister herself has taken those numbers and she did contact these people to check whether the responses that they were providing were appropriate or not," he said.

The ministry has deputed 12 officials who are diplomats in the region to assist Indian nationals in Iraq. Nine of them are deputed to Najaf, Karbala and Basra.

"And we hope that tomorrow we will be able to induct another 12 people... This is in addition to our mission there," he said.