The 46 Indian nurses from Kerala, who were trapped in a Tikrit hospital for weeks and then abducted by ISIS militants and forcibly taken to Mosul, have finally left behind the conflict-ridden country to return to India today, with their flight stopping at Mumbai at 8:43 am. They will reach Kochi by 11:55 am today.
A special Air India plane marked for evacuation of Indian nationals reached Erbil in Kurdistan on Friday, where the nurses were taken after their release by ISIS militants. Apart from the nurses there are more than 130 Indian nationals who are also being flown out of Iraq in the same plane, which is reported to have reached Mumbai to disembark some passengers before making its final stop at Kochi by 12 noon, Cochin International Airport Director AK C Nair told the Press Trust of India.
The news of the nurses' release on Friday came as a big relief for the country following high drama when the nurses were forcibly moved out of their Tikrit hospital hideout on Thursday from where they were taken to Mosul.
Several nurses contacted their relatives after they were set free by their captors. Sayona Thomas, a nurse from Palakkad in Kerala, called her family to say they were being freed, Hindustan Times reported.
The nurses said that they were treated humanely by the militants and were given biscuits and water.
"They never wanted to hurt us. For the last 2 to 3 days, they kept asking us to move out of the basement...but we were scared so we kept saying no. On Thursday, they just forced us out of the hospital building against our will," Mareena Jose, a nurse form Kottayam in Kerala told The Hindu. "They treated us well. Even though they were all fasting, they ensured we did not go hungry," she said.
Relatives of the nurses who were praying for their safe return expressed enormous relief at the news. "We don't know how to express our gratitude," Sobha Sasikumar, mother of one of the nurses, told HT.
The Ministry of External Affairs, which has been closely following the situation in Iraq, confirmed that the nurses were set free. "I can confirm the Indian nurses moved out against their will (from Tikrit to Mosul) are free. They are in touch with Indian embassy officials at Erbil," Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs told the media at a press briefing on Friday.
The Indian government has been taking significant steps to help in bringing back Indian nationals in Iraq ever since the militant outfit Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) ran over several towns and oil refineries in the Middle Eastern country. There are about 10,000 Indians estimated to be living in Iraq, but the government has facilitated the return on more than 1,500 Indians from Iraq already.
However, the fate of the 39 Indian construction workers, who were kidnapped in Mosul still remains uncertain, and the government has said it would make all efforts to ensure return of all nationals form Iraq.