New Delhi: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj Sunday said Indians in Iraq were safe and efforts were on to establish direct contact with those in conflict zones there even as she chaired a meeting of envoys in the Gulf region to chalk out measures to rescue citizens from the violence-hit country.
The minister, who again met the families of some of the Indians stranded in Iraq, assured them about the well-being of their kin.
The Indian mission in Iraq has made arrangements to fly out Tuesday 40 Indians who were in the safer zones of Iraq, like Najaf, Basra and Karbala, said external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin at a briefing on the Iraq situation.
The ministry has set up three mobile camps in Najaf, Basra and Karbala, to help Indian workers who want to return.
Sushma Swaraj told reporters afterwards that the information about Indians in the conflict zone has been collected through the Red Crescent and they are safe.
"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," she 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.
The minister, however, clarified that even if direct contact is established with the Indians there, the government may not be able to rescue them immediately due to the ongoing fighting.
"The families would feel assured if we are able to establish direct contact with their kin there (in Iraq), but we may not be able to evacuate them immediately," she said.
The meeting with the envoys, also attended by the ambassadors of Gulf countries posted in India, reviewed the steps taken so far in this regard, ministry officials said.
Briefing the media about the meeting, Akbaruddin later said the focus was on knowing the assessment of situation by the envoys, and how they can assist in facilitating the rescue.
"The focus was on what was their assessment about the developments in the region... How they viewed the situation in Iraq and the kind of assistance that can be provided to Indians in Iraq from their respective countries both to those who are in the conflict zone and those who are out of the conflict zone," he said.
"Based on that meeting, the minister decided that certain parts of the Indian community welfare fund that is available for our missions in the Gulf will be used for assisting Indian nationals in Iraq," he said.
The spokesperson said the Indian workers who want to leave would be flown out in batches, “as and when tickets are available and we are able to complete all the contractual issues related to their stay in Iraq because that also is a matter that we have to take into account before we do this”.
On the 46 Indian nurses stranded in a hospital in Tikrit, which has been overrun by the militants, the spokesperson said the nurses “remain unhurt” and that their hospital “has not been intruded upon”. He said the nurses were facing some shortage of funds, which has been arranged for through “our contacts in that region”.
On the 39 Indians held in captivity in Mosul, which has also fallen into militant hands, the spokesperson said that the Indians are “unharmed” and that the government is “working on the leads” provided in order to evacuate them.
Beefing up its evacuation efforts, the ministry has flown in 12 officials to Iraq, of whom nine have been deputed to Najaf, Karbala and Basra. Another 12 are being flown by Monday. The government has already flown former envoy Suresh Reddy earlier this month. More officials would be flown if required, Akbaruddin said.
Giving a figure of the number of Indians in Iraq, he said there are approximately 10,000 plus in that country. Over 50 of the around 150 Indians who were in the zone of conflict have left the region, he said.