Former Kerala CM praises Sushma Swaraj

Former Kerala CM praises Sushma Swaraj

Sushma Swaraj (Reuters file photo)

Five years ago, a group of Keralite nurses had flown down to Kerala from the captivity of ISIS militants in strife-torn Iraq with their mind full of relief and gratitude to a woman- the then External Affairs Minister, late Sushma Swaraj.

The timely intervention of Swaraj, who passed away following a massive cardiac arrest on Monday night, had helped the safe evacuation of 46 Indian nurses, including a large number of Keralites from the conflict zone and brought them to their homeland in a special flight on July 2014.

Not only the freed nurses but also the then Kerala Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Oommen Chandy had lavished praise on Swaraj, setting aside political differences.

Recalling Swaraj's intervention, Chandy on Tuesday said she had gone out of her way to extend support to safely evacuate the nurses. Chandy, who was in New Delhi, paid his last respects to the late BJP leader, who breathed her last at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences late last night.

"I had called her past midnight to inform her that the Air India flight, which had gone to pick the stranded nurses, could not land in Iraq. She told me not to worry and ensured that everything would be held as planned," he said.

"As promised, she called back within 15 minutes after managing to get permission for the aircraft to land at the airport there," the former Chief Minister said, adding that her timely and effective intervention had actually helped make the immediate evacuation of the nurses possible.

Merina, one among the 46 nurses who were rescued from Iraq, told PTI that the news of Sushma Swaraj's death came as a rude "shock". "We felt the warmth and affection of Sushama ji. She never looked at the politics and religion of those who were in need of any help abroad. She just considered everyone as Indians," Merina, now working as a nurse at Marine Medical Centre at Pala in Kottayam said.

The ordeal of the nurses, who were working at a hospital in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, had begun when ISIS (Islamic State for Iraq and Syria) militants had launched an offensive in that region on June 9 in 2014.

Even as Indian authorities continued to maintain constant touch with their counterparts in Iraq for the safe release of nurses, they were moved out against their will and detained in the militant-held city of Mosul, 250 km from Tikrit.

Intense efforts by Swaraj and the External Affairs Ministry led to the rescue of the nurses and their safe evacuation in buses to Erbil International airport, located 70 km from Mosul.

From there, they were brought to Mumbai first and then to Kochi in a special flight. Setting aside his political differences, Chandy had then thanked the Centre, Swaraj, the Indian Embassy in Iraq and the MEA for ensuring the safe return of the nurses from strife-hit Iraq.

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