Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on Thursday said the 46 Indian nurses, a majority of them are from his state, who have been moved out of their hospital in Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-controlled Tikrit town of war-torn Iraq, are "safe" and there was no need for "anxiety".
Chandy, who is getting regular updates from Indian diplomats in Iraq to ensure safe evacuation of stranded Indians, said the external affairs ministry and the Indian embassy officials are making "sincere efforts" to achieve the goal.
The chief minister, along with his ministerial colleagues Ramesh Chennithala, K M Mani and M Ali, met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj twice and discussed various options to solve the crisis. They will be in Delhi for two-three days.
The CM said the nurses "came out" of the hospital in Tikrit where they were working and "left the place".
"We expect their information in details after sometime," he said but did not specify whether they are in the custody of ISIS fighters.
Asked whether the state government was consulted before the nurses were moved out of the hospital, he said, "Now we are not going into the details. Some limitations are there."
"That is correct," he said when pointed out that the nurses have left their hospital. He said two-three nurses have suffered "minor injuries" in an incident occurred when they were about to leave the place.
The CM said the Indian embassy officials were trying to contact the Red Crescent officials but they have only "very limited" activities in that area. "They (Red Crescent) are not in a position to bring them to a safe place," Chandy said.
"Our main purpose is to protect the interest of the Indians living there. So for that purpose, we are doing (everything) through our embassy," the CM said.
"They are safe. There is no need for any anxiety," he said.
During his meeting with Swaraj, Chandy expressed concern over the safety of the nurses who were in touch with him over telephone.
After his first meeting with her, Chandy was again called back by Swaraj and was updated on the latest information on the safety of nurses, the sources said.
"We met the external affairs minister and she is taking stock of the situation. The MEA and Indian embassy (in Iraq) are doing their best," Chandy said.
The nurses told Chandy that they are in panic as the situation is deteriorating minute-by-minute, sources said.
Chandy and his ministerial colleagues had a 40-minute meeting with Swaraj who assured him of all possible help and efforts for safe evacuation of the nurses.
Kerala Home Minister Chennithala appealed to all international peace agencies to help ensure safe evacuation of nurses from the war-hit areas. "We are appealing to all international agencies for help," he said.
Kerala Bharatiya Janata Party chief V Muraleedharan also met Swaraj seeking urgent steps to ensure the safe return of nurses. State Finance Minister K M Mani said he took up the Indian nurses' issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he called on him at his residence.
Asked whether the nurses are in the captivity of the ISIS, Chennithala said "this is not the time to divulge all the details. Our prime duty and our prime responsibility is to give them total safety. So, all diplomatic channels are working out the strategy."
He appealed to the media to "cooperate" with the government till the crisis got over.
"All we can say is that they are safe now. The government and the MEA have taken all precautions, so that their safety will be ensured. The MEA and diplomatic channels are trying their best to ensure their absolute safety," Chennithala said.
Asked whether the nurses have been provided food and other facilities, Chandy said "everything was there in their hostel" attached to the hospital.
Image: The nurses have been moved by ISIS militants from Tikrit. Photograph: Reuters