Both the Union government and Kerala state government are in touch with the 44 Kerala nurses, who have been stranded in a hospital in Tikrit of the strife-torn Iraq, and are mulling ways and means for their safe evacuation, claim reports on Tuesday.
As the fight between Iraqi forces and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants escalates in the Tikrit area, immediate evacuation of the nurses from the hospital are remote, said KC Joseph minister for Non-Resident Keralites' Affairs (NORKA).
Even the ISIL militants have asked the hospital inmates to stay put. Some of the stranded nurses informed their relatives in Kerala that the militants visited the hospital and asked them to stay inside.
According to the minister, the nurses have been safe in the hospital so far. As the situation in the Tikrit is tense, the government cannot do anything at this stage, he pointed out.
"It will take four hours to drive these nurses to the nearest airport but authorities are saying they can't guarantee the safety of the nurses if they travel in the current circumstances. We are trying to get the help of some international agency to bring them back," India Today quoted Joseph.
"As civil war is going on there, the Iraqi government does not have any control over the administration. We can rescue these nurses only if we can shift them from the hospital to airport. Shell attacks are going on in and around the hospital and it's impossible for the administration arrange flights to India at this time. We talked to Red Crescent officials through the ambassador but they insist that it is safe to remain indoors," he added.
Among the 44 nurses, only 32 are willing to come back to India, while the others have no plans to come home soon as they have not been paid their salaries for the last six months, the minister stated.
ISIL has taken over Iraq cities like Mosul and Kikrit. There are more than 10,000 Indians in Iraq. Most of the Indians live in cities such as Basra, Najaf and Baghdad, which have not yet been encroached by ISIL.
However, a total of 90 Indians, including the 44 Kerala nurses, are reportedly trapped in Iraqi cities and towns captured by ISIL militants. The Indian Embassy has arranged a 24-hour helpline for the Indian nationals in Baghdad.
The stranded nurses revealed that Red Cross officials also visited the hospital.
Even Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy is said to be in touch with Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj since the last three days, trying to secure the safety of the Keralites in Iraq.