New Delhi: India on Thursday said the 40 Indian workers abducted in strife-torn Iraq are safe and told their distraught families that the "very best" efforts are going on to have them freed.
Iraqi insurgents in Mosul. Pic: AFP
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told a delegation of families of seven of the abducted men that all 40 workers are safe but did not disclose where they are being held.
The government is making all possible efforts to free the construction workers seized in Mosul, one of the major northern Iraqi cities overrun by Sunni insurgents.
"I am personally mulling over all options. The government is making all kinds of efforts. We are not leaving any stone unturned," Sushma Swaraj told reporters here.
"The 40 men are safe... When the situation normalises, we will try to get them released," she told the delegation of worried families that was accompanied by Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.
She said the men, who worked for a Turkish construction company and were mostly from Punjab, are being held in a government building.
A spokesperson for the family members said the minister told them that the workers were abducted while being taken to a safe place following the outbreak of fighting in Mosul.
"The minister said blank passports and tickets were being issued to them so that they can be brought back when they are released," said Manjit Singh G.K., president of the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee, who was part of the delegation that met Sushma Swaraj.
India has sent to Baghdad Suresh Reddy, who was envoy to Iraq till a few months ago, to tap his extensive contacts there to ensure an early release of the Indians.
Sushma Swaraj said earlier that she is "personally supervising" the rescue efforts and assure the families that the government will "make every effort" for their release.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi Thursday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to intensify diplomatic efforts to secure the early release of the 40 Indians, and to "act swiftly" to evacuate all Indians from the affected areas and ensure their safe return.
"I urge you to intensify all diplomatic efforts required to ensure their safety and secure their release," she wrote, pledging her party's backing.
Badal also earlier vowed to make every effort to ensure the release of the workers.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy Thursday asked Modi to ensure that all steps are taken for the safe return of all Keralites, including 46 nurses from the state in the Tikrit town, in the wake of the violence in Iraq.
Officials in Lucknow said that more than 200 people from various parts of Uttar Pradesh also are stuck in Iraq.
Of these, 150 are pilgrims who are in Karbala for 'ziyarat' during the holy Muslim month of Shabaan, while three dozen people from Lucknow are caught up in Tikrit, Karbala, Najaf and Baghdad where they had gone on business trips.
Food Processing Industries Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal said the affected families in Punjab have been told to alert the authorities if they get a telephone call from the workers.
The mother of Manjeet Singh, one of the abducted workers, is waiting for her son to call up. Manjeet last called up home 10 days ago. "He went to Iraq 11 months ago to work as a sanitary worker. He would phone up regularly. But since that call 10 days ago, there has been no word from him," Jeeto Kaur, his mother, told IANS.
Manjeet, 30, is married, with two kids, and belongs to Punjab.
Jeeto Kaur was in the delegation of agitated relatives of the abducted Indians who came to meet Sushma Swaraj at her office here Thursday.
According to Parminder Pal Singh, spokesperson of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), which brought the relatives of the abducted Indians to the capital, the Indian workers were kidnapped June 12-13 but "are being looked after and being given food by their Iraqi captors.." as per available information.
The Indians, who mostly belong to Punjab's Amritsar, Batala, and Gurdaspur, were working as drivers, sanitary workers and construction labourers in Mosul, that has been taken over by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The external affairs ministry's crisis management group, headed by Secretary (East) Anil Wadhwa, held two meetings and Wadhwa also met the Iraqi envoy here.