The government today admitted that it had no direct contact with the 41 Indian nationals still stranded in Iraq but assured that they were safe and alive as per the information received from various quarters. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, replying to a debate in the Rajya Sabha on a Calling Attention on the plight of stranded Indians in Iraq, said the evacuation of Indian nationals from Iraq had come down to a trickle and the government’s main concern now was the welfare of Indians in Libya. She said the government was persuading Indian nationals in Libya to return and they would be brought from Benghazi by a ferry to Malta from where they would be evacuated by air planes. We don’t have direct contact with them (41 Indians in Iraq). But not one but many sources have told us that they are alive and safe, the Minister said. Giving figures of Indian nationals in Iraq, she said there were 22,000 of them and of those, 15,000 were safe in Kurdistan and not in any danger. Of the rest 7000, about 5,000 had been brought back and the remaining 2,000 were still there. Of these 5,000 brought back, 3,938 had been provided with air fare and travel documents by the Indian embassy there.
Asserting that Libya also was not safe, Ms Swaraj said 98 Indian nurses had been brought out from Libya and many more people would be brought out. About 226 people would be brought to Malta from Benghazi from where they would be airlifted to India. An Indian naval ship INS Mysore had also been sent to evacuate Indian nationals from Libya but when they were evacuated by ferry and air, the ship returned. She urged the members to persuade people from their respective states to return as the situation had not worsened in Libya and India was still in control. It could, however, worsen any time, she warned. ”Iraq evacuation is almost complete. We are now more concerned about Libya,” she added. On Iraq, she said India had opened camp offices in Basra, Najaf and Karbala and to cater to any Indian nationals who wanted to return. However, there were very few requests now and the evacuation had come down to a ”trickle.” Many people living in Baghdad did not want to come back but the Indian government was persuading them to return as Baghdad too was not safe.
Ms Swaraj said the government’s main concern was now the welfare of Indian nationals in Libya and would bring them from Benghazi to Malta by ferry. To a specific query about the sources that the Indian government was tapping to secure the release of 41 Indians held hostages, the Minister declined to disclose the information saying she was under oath and could not disclose. However, she had shared the details with Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur, Ms Swaraj said. She assured that the government was ”knocking at every door” to secure the release of 41 abducted Indian nationals. The Minister also admitted that there were 70 lakh Indian workers in Gulf countries and their remittances were more than half of what the country was getting. Refuting the charge that the Narendra Modi government had changed its policy towards Palestine, Ms Swaraj said the government had voted in favour of Palestine at the UNHRC. Earlier, initiating the debate on stranded Indians in Iraq in the Rajya Sabha, Congress’ Ambika Soni congratulated Ms Swaraj for her efforts to bring nurses back but asked what about others and what was being done by the government for other workers stuck in Iraq.