New Delhi: Indians held captive by suspected Sunni militants in Mosul town of Iraq were unharmed, the government said Monday even as efforts continued to secure their release from their abductors in the violence-hit Gulf country.
Family members pray for the well-being of their sons trapped in Iraq. Pic: AFP
External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told reporters here that efforts were being made to move out Indians from conflict zones in Iraq.
He said the government's information flow has improved providing it channels to obtain, corroborate and confirm information.
"On the diplomatic front, our efforts are continuing both in Iraq and outside. Our initiatives are gaining impetus. We are proceeding systematically and carefully. Various doors are opening now; these are primarily in Iraq at various levels, all of which are significant," he said.
He said there were about 120 Indians in conflict zones in Iraq and 17 had moved out. "Seventeen Indians have been removed from the conflict zone. We are working to ensure that rest of the Indian nationals in conflict zones are moved out of there," he said.
Asked if there was real danger of the 39 abducted Indians being used as a shield, he said there was "no safety in captivity".
"We are every day trying to obtain information, corroborate information and confirm information. Based on that, I can confirm they remain unharmed as of now," he said.
It is understood that India is in touch with countries in the region like Saudi Arabia to urge them to assist in freeing the Indians.
The Indians, who belong mostly to Punjab and Haryana, were working in Mosul as construction workers, drivers or sanitary workers. They were abducted around a week ago by suspected militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who have overrun large parts of northern Iraq and taken over Mosul and Tikrit.
The 46 Indian nurses in Tikrit were also safe, he added.
Akbaruddin said the safety and security of Indians in Iraq remained a matter of priority for the government.
"We have received 120 requests in Baghdad and 300 at our control room in New Delhi for assistance of various types," he said.
Some of the requests may, however, be duplication, he said.
Akbaruddin said there were more than 10,000 Indians in Iraq and the return of those not in the conflict zones would be in normal contractual terms. He said there were 12 major companies where Indians were working and the company with the largest presence of Indians - around 2,500 - was in Najaf.
He said several Indians wanted to return and the government was also in touch with companies that sent them to Iraq for work.
On reports of the death of an Indian, he said there was no information from the concerned company about the possibility of an Indian worker in southern Iraq who may have succumbed to heart attack.
"When I checked that up, they (the Indian mission) hadn't yet got confirmation from the concerned company. It is possible that the company is completing their procedures at their end before they come to us. But should this unfortunate event have taken place, we will assist the return of the mortal remains of that Indian national in accordance with the standard procedure," Akbaruddin said.
Officials said that requests for assistance from Indian nationals in Iraq were being addressed round-the-clock. The Indian mission would help the workers to obtain passports to return, as their passports would have been taken away by the employers under labour laws there.
Sources said the government was also in touch with the Indian nurses stranded in a hospital in Tikrit.