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2,200 Indians to return from Iraq

New Delhi: Nearly 2,200 Indians in Iraq's non-conflict areas wish to return home, with 117 of them set to reach the capital after midnight on Sunday, it was announced on Sunday.

Also read: Bringing back Indians

The external affairs ministry said the government was buying tickets for some 1,600 of the 2,200 while the air fare for the other 600 were being paid by the companies in Iraq they worked for. The announcement comes a day after 46 nurses from Kerala seized and freed by Sunni insurgents who have overrun vast areas in Iraq flew back to Kochi to a grand welcome.

On Saturday Air India flight later went to Hyderabad where 52 nurses from Telangana and 24 from Andhra Pradesh got off. Another 15 Gujaratis on the plane then flew to New Delhi before taking a flight to Mumbai. External affairs ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said New Delhi had deployed mobile teams of six people each in the Iraqi cities of Najaf, Karbala and Basra to facilitate the return of Indian nationals.

All the three centres are held by the Iraqi government based in Baghdad. The Kerala nurses were seized in Tikrit and driven to Mosul -- both places controlled by the insurgents -- before being transported to Erbil, capital of Kurdistan. The spokesman said a total of 2,200 "have in some form or the other indicated their desire to leave" Iraq, which has plunged into a crisis in the wake of the Sunni offensive.

He hoped that 1,600 Indians would be back in India in the next 24 hours, including 117 who would fly in from Baghdad just after midnight on Sunday. Under pressure to evacuate Indians stranded in Iraq, the Indian government is using seats available on commercial flights flying out of Baghdad. It is also deploying special flights. Akbaruddin said the return of 2,200 Indians would in a way mark the completion of the process of bringing back those who wanted to quit Iraq.

The government would be in a position to divert more resources to the facilitation process in "what is an extremely difficult situation in the conflict zone", he said. "We are working through the front door, back door, trap door," he said, to indicate that New Delhi was sparing no effort to bring back the Indians home safely. But officials said that 39 Indian workers were still in captivity, held by suspected Sunni militants. But they remained unharmed.

Akbaruddin said 486 telephone calls were received at the control rooms operated by the external affairs ministry from Indians stranded across Iraq. "We are responding to each one of them," he said.

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