Zee Media Bureau/Hemant Abhishek
New Delhi: Even as reports emanating from Iraq hinted that the Indian hostages taken by Sunni rebels could be used as human shields, the Ministry of External Affairs on Monday confirmed that all its nationals in the war-sticken country were safe and no effort was being spared to ensure their safety.
Spokesperson in the External Affairs Ministry said that India was ascertaining facts about the reported death of an Indian in Iraq even as it was making all efforts to secure release of 39 Indian construction workers who were in "captivity".
"I have checked with our mission about possibility of an Indian worker in Southern Iraq who may have succumbed to a heart attack... (but) they had not yet got confirmation from the concerned company. It is normal for a company to inform the mission and further action is taken," Syed Akbaruddin, the Official Spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs, said.
Apprising scribes of the situation in Iraq, he said, "We can reconfirm that the Indian nationals in captivity remain unharmed."
“Out of 120, we have removed 17 Indians from the conflict zone.”
Regarding the Indian nurses stranded there, he averred, "The 46 nurses in Tikrit are safe. We`re in touch with them."
But the safety and security of Indian nationals in Iraq remains to be a concern for the government of India, he added.
When asked repeatedly if the safety of the hostages was guaranteed, Akbaruddin stoically replied, "There is no safety in captivity. That said we are trying to get information on them everyday."
With regards to the diplomatic measures taken by India to rescue those stranded in Iraq, he quipped, "We are proceeding systematically, various doors are open now. We are working to ensure that rest of the Indian nationals in conflict zones moved out of there."
The MEA had received over 120 requests for evacuation, he said, adding that though there were more than 500 people in Basra this was not a cause for concern as the Iraqi town was away from the eye of the conflict. "We have received 120 requests in Baghdad and 300 in our control room in New Delhi for assistance of various types," the MEA spokesperson informed.
Earlier on Sunday, the MEA ha announced that the families of the workers in Iraq can contact the control room at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, the Indian Embassy in Baghdad has set up a 24 hour helpline, which can be contacted for assistance at following numbers:
The control room that is being monitored by the officials of Joint Secretary level has received over 70 to 80 calls every day.
Concern has been mounting over 40 Indian construction workers caught in crossfire in Iraq, who were taken hostage last week by the ISIS militants when they captured the town of Mosul and went on to mushroom further capturing wider swathes of Iraqi territory.
One of them, who succeeded in escaping the militants` custody, was reportedly safe and reached Indian Embassy in Baghdad.
Despite the government`s assurance of the workers` safety, reports emerging from Iraq paint a dim picture of their condition under the ISIS captivity.
The construction workers who belong to the state of Punjab or Haryana, are reportedly used as porters or made to cook and clean for the Sunni militants.
Meanwhile a report by the Amnesty International India claimed that hundreds of Indians were stranded in Najaf province of the besieged Middle East country.
In a statement, the Amnesty added that the workers are unable to return as their employers have refused to give back their passports.
— amnestypress (@amnestypress) June 21, 2014
Amnesty International India also said that it had spoken with some of these workers and that they had not been paid their salaries for months.
The ISIS has massacred hundreds of people since the start of the offensive, and captured huge swathes of Iraq in a drastic way.
Some 500,000 people have been internally displaced, according to UN estimates.
The ISIS militants who took over Mosul and Tikrit last week were seen advancing with a lighting speed as they approach Baghdad.