Forty Indian employees stranded in violence-hit Iraq are “uncontactable”, the foreign ministry said Wednesday, with a newspaper reporting the construction workers have been kidnapped.
A ministry spokesman said he could not confirm the report in the Times of India that insurgents have abducted the 40 workers in the northern city of Mosul amid a deteriorating security situation.
“Despite our best efforts at this stage we haven’t been able to contact them. So they remain uncontactable at this stage,” said spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said when asked about a newspaper report on Wednesday morning that they were abducted, he said.
“Beyond that I am not able to confirm or verify reports of a speculative nature (kidnapping),” Akbaruddin added.
“At this stage we have no reports whatsoever, no confirmation, no verification of any Indian national being involved in any violent accident or injury.”
The spokesperson said Reddy is being sent to Baghdad to strengthen the Indian Mission there which is trying to help the Indians in violence-affected areas.
According to an Indian government official there are about 120 Indians that the mission is trying to evacuate from those parts of northern Iraq that have been overrun by militants.
While rescue teams have been in touch with most of them, they have not been able to establish contact with one group of construction workers near Mosul, said the official who didn’t want to be named.
Amid worsening situation in Iraq, the Indian government called in the Iraqi envoy here to discuss ways of helping Indian nationals trapped in the affected areas of Mosul and Tikrit and also held a crisis management meeting. There are 46 Indian nurses — most of them from Kerala — stranded in Tikrit.
The external affairs ministry on Tuesday evening announced the setting up of a 24-hour control room to provide information to all concerned. The Indian embassy in Baghdad has also set up a 24-hour helpline.
On Tuesday, Baquba — capital of Diyala province, 60 km from Baghdad — saw Sunni militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) take control of several districts before government troops and allied Shia militia regained control, according to reports.
The US and Iran are actively considering ways to help the Iraqi government tackle the situation, including through military air strikes.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has been monitoring and reviewing the situation on a regular basis and in accordance with her instructions, the Indian embassy in Baghdad is providing updated reports on the Indian nationals in the affected areas, said ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin.
According to R. Dayakar, who was envoy for eight years in two stints, said the areas that have been taken over by the Sunni militants do not have a large Indian populace. Most of the Indians in Iraq are in Basra and Kurdistan, which are relatively safer places.
What makes providing safety to the Indians in Tikrit difficult is that there is no flight service from the city to Baghdad.
“The only way to the Iraqi capital is over land. There are chances of encountering jihadists at the fake check points they set up on the road,” Dayakar told IANS news agency
Dayakar said the Iraqi Red Crescent went and looked up the Indian nurses in Tikrit at the request of the Indian government.
Besides the Indian nationals, there are workers from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal working in the affected areas.
The external affairs ministry control room nos are: +91 11 2301 2113, +91 11 2301 7905, +91 11 2301 4104; Fax: +91 11 2301 8158
In addition, the Indian embassy in Baghdad has set up a 24-hour helpline which can be accessed for information or assistance. The numbers are:
Tel. No. +964 770 444 4899 (Mobile)
Tel. No. +964 770 484 3247 (Mobile)
Full coverage: Iraq on the brink
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