New Delhi: Government today assured Rajya Sabha that it will “leave no stone unturned” for the safe return of Indian nationals in captivity in Iraq who are “alive and well”, and said its focus is now on bringing back Indians from strife-torn Libya which it said is no longer safe.
Replying to a Calling Attention motion in Rajya Sabha on the plight of stranded workers from India in Iraq, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said the government proposed to bring a comprehensive Immigration Bill in Parliament.
“The safety and security of Indian nationals, especially 41 Indian nationals in captivity in Mosul, is a matter of foremost concern and pre-occupation for us. We are leaving no stone unturned for their safe return,” she said, adding, “I have knocked at all doors which can help bring Indians back. I am waiting like a mother waits for her children to return.”
“We are are persuading all Indians working there to come back. If you want someone to come back from Iraq or Libya, I assure the House that I will provide them passports and air tickets,” she said.
Talking about the 41 Indians held captive in Iraq, she said government had no direct contact with them but “we have come to know from our sources that they are alive and well”.
She said the number of people to be brought back from Iraq has reduced considerably after 4,900 Indians have already returned. The government provided air tickets and travel assistance to 3,938 of them.
On Libya, Swaraj said it “is of concern to us. You be rest assured, our priority is to get back all Indians stranded there,” and assured that cost will not be a deterrent. She said government is exploring all options in bringing back Indians from there, either through the Tunisia border or through Malta after being ferried from Benghazi.
She said that even though US, UK, France and China had shut their embassies in Tripoli, the Indian Embassy was working there round-the-clock and had deployed 70 coordinators for helping Indians return safely.
Noting that the government remains “deeply concerned” over the ongoing conflict and deteriorating security scenario in Iraq resulting out of sudden attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), she assured the House “it would remain the earnest endeavour of our government to assist every Indian citizen currently in Iraq and ensure their safe return.”
Replying to clarifications sought by members on Iraq situation, she said, “The safety and security of Indian nationals, especially 41 Indian nationals in captivity in Mosul, is a matter of foremost concern and pre-occupation for us. We are leaving no stone unturned for their safe return.”
The Calling Attention motion was moved by K C Tyagi (JD-U) and many members spoke on the issue expressing concern over Indians stranded in Iraq and Libya.
Swaraj said INS-Mysore had been sent to Iraq to assist in evacuation process most of which has been carried out through air planes and the battleship has been brought back.
She said there were a total of 22,000 Indians in Iraq, of which 15,000 were in Kurdistan of Iraq, who were fully safe.
Dismissing reports that a Malayali trader had arranged for the return of Kerala nurses from Iraq, she said if indeed such a person existed he should come forward and help in securing the release of 41 held captive from Punjab. “I assure you, I will get him a Padma Shri,” she said.
Reading out her reply amid noisy scenes in the House over the UPSC row, she said government fully shares the concerns of members regarding the recent developments in Iraq and safety and security of Indian nationals stranded there.
“The Government of India has been regularly and closely monitoring the security situation in Iraq. Since the onset of crisis in Iraq, we have regularly issued travel advisories for our nationals, including on June 15, 24 and 28.
“Indian nationals have been advised to avoid all travel to Iraq, until further notification and a ban has been imposed by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs on emigration to Iraq by ECR category travelers effective June 19 this year,” she said.