Kochi: As many as 183 Indians stranded in strife-torn Iraq, including the 46 nurses from Kerala who were freed by Iraqi insurgents, arrived on Saturday to a grand welcome, ending days of tension and uncertainty.
A nurse who was held by Islamic extremists in Iraq, hugs her relative upon arrival at the airport in Kochi on Saturday. Pic/PTI
The special Air India flight from Erbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, landed here close to noon as Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his cabinet colleagues, legislators, Lok Sabha members and state government officials received the nurses at the airport.
Arrangements were made for three family members of each nurse to go inside the airport to receive them. A special immigration desk was also set up for them. It was a mad scramble, with anxious family members hugging and kissing their dear ones.
While some cried in happiness, others were seen clutching the hands of toddlers, most of them children of these nurses, who for the past nearly three weeks never imagined such an arrival.
Sandra Sebastian, one of the nurses, told the media at Kochi airport that she was very scared when they were taken away by the insurgents.
“... very afraid... will not go back,” she said in broken English. Chandy earlier said that at one point of time, he had lost all hope as the plane did not get permission to land in Erbil because of strong winds.
He thanked External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for all her efforts to bring back the nurses to India.
Reports earlier said many nurses protested at Erbil airport, saying they won’t board the plane unless they are paid their four months’ salary arrears.
Indian officials persuaded them, and they finally agreed. Seena, a nurse from Kannur, said they lived in isolation at Tikrit, their workplace, for 23 days.
“Our patience was running out... gun-toting men came to our building in the hospital campus Thursday. All they gave us was 15 minutes and asked us to pack our things.
“We were told to enter one of the four buses parked outside... and in a few minutes, we saw the first and third floor of our building go up in flames,” Seena said.
Another nurse said, “Never in our dreams, we thought that these armed men would be our saviours.”