India has evacuated its 17 more citizens from the conflict zones of Iraq, but the 39 kidnapped from the jihadi-held city of Mosul in the northern region of the West Asian country continue to be in captivity, albeit unharmed so far.
New Delhi and Baghdad have set up a joint committee to help Indians who want to leave Iraq but are not able to do so due to problems with their immigration status.
The Embassy of India in Baghdad will set up camp offices at Basra, Karbala and Najaf to help Indians return home, although all the three cities in southern Iraq are still unaffected by the current conflict.
The embassy had earlier helped 16 people leave the conflict zones for safer places before travelling back home. One of the 40 Indians kidnapped from Mosul was also shifted from the conflict zone after he fled from captivity and contacted the embassy.
With the latest evacuation, altogether 34 are now out of the areas held by the jihadis.
After the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took control of Mosul, Tikrit and several other cities in northern and central Iraq, New Delhi estimated the number of Indians stranded in conflict zones to be around 120.
They include 40 construction workers—mostly from Punjab and West Bengal—abducted from Mosul and 46 nurses—mostly from Kerala—in a hospital in Tikrit.
“The safety of Indians in Iraq remains a matter of high importance for the government.
We have, with the help of local authorities, evacuated 17 more Indians from the conflict zones. They are now in Baghdad, and will head back home soon,” Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said on Tuesday.
“The abducted Indians are still in captivity, but not hurt or harmed,” he said, adding that the Indian Embassy in Baghdad is also in touch with the nurses in Tikrit.
Sources said the government was still assessing options to evacuate the nurses, but the Iraqi administration as well as officials of the humanitarian organisation Red Crescent have purportedly advised the embassy not to rush into any such move as the routes they would have to take to reach the pick-up points were still not safe.
Akbaruddin, however, said the nurses remained safe and no one had so far intruded into the hospital where they worked .
The MEA remained tight-lipped about the status of negotiation for the release of the 39 Indians kidnapped from Mosul.
Sources added that the government was in touch with the Iraqi government and top officials of the autonomous Kurdistan region of the country, as well as the intelligence agencies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as the two countries purportedly had some influence on top ISIL leaders.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley evaded a question on the possibility of New Delhi sending troops to Iraq.