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Hope runs thin for families of stranded Indians in Iraq

Last updated on: July 23, 2014 10:45 IST

Hope runs thin for families of stranded Indians in Iraq

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Upasna Pandey in New Delhi

More than a month after they lost contact with their kin stranded in Iraq, around 30 families from Punjab, Bihar and Himachal Pradesh have moved to the national capital with a resolve to “not go back till we get proof of life and a timeline from the government for safely bringing back our kin.” Upasna Pandey speaks with the family of those stranded in Iraq.

It is a battle of hope against reality for the family members, including parents, siblings and spouses, as they talk about their worst fears, sitting in a sarai (dormitory) at the Gurudwara Bangla Sahab in New Delhi. Their abducted kin last spoke to them on June 15 and have had no contact since.

The families plan to meet Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and hold a protest at Jantar Mantar in case they are not satisfied by the government’s response. They have kept in touch with MEA officials and the Punjab government until now, but are clearly dissatisfied with no positive development in efforts to trace the abducted men.

They are not ready to give up hope yet.

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Image: Paramjit Kaur displays the photograph of her brother Kuljit Singh, who has been kidnapped in Iraq, in Amritsar.
Photographs: Munish Sharma/Reuters

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“There have been no calls for ransom and the last conversation confirmed that the abductors were treating them well and giving food and water. We are hopeful that they are fine still,” says Devender Singh, brother of Gobinder Singh, one of the abducted men from Kapurthala.

There is also confusion over the identities of those who abducted the Indians in Iraq. “When Gobinder last spoke with us, he said they were not sure if their abductors were militants of the Islamic State in Iraq or they were being held hostage by their own employer companies (mostly into construction, engineering, etc). The government needs to ascertain this and put diplomatic pressure on these companies in case this is the case,” says Devender.

“We are not planning to go back to our homes till we get proof. We want to speak with Swaraj so that we can get a timeline for safely brining back our family members from Iraq,” says Gurpinder Singh, sister of Manjinder Singh, one of the abducted men.

She adds, “My brother last spoke to me on June 15 when he said they were being separated from a larger group of around 91 men, including around 50 others from Bangladesh. He said they were moved to a cotton factory and were given food and water.”

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Image: Relatives hold up photographs of Indian workers, who have been kidnapped in Iraq, after their meeting with Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi.
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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It is a traumatising time for the family of Manjinder who last spoke with his mother who is a cancer survivor, on June 11, informing her that he had been taken hostage by ISIS men.

“We fear for the worst but we are not ready to give up hope, I am here for my brother and my family is waiting for some positive news,” adds Gurpinder as she fights back her tears. All families claim that the abducted Indians made last telephonic contact with them around 14-15 June and since then their phones have been switched off.

Indian diplomats in Doha and Qatar, are believed to be making efforts to free the 39 men. The diplomats are likely to attempt to leverage Qatar's proximity with the rebel groups in Iraq to help secure the release of the hostages, according to sources.

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Image: A relative of an Indian worker, who has been kidnapped in Iraq, weeps during her visit to a Gurudwara before meeting Swaraj in New Delhi.
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin has been reported to have “confirmed that the Indians are unharmed but remain in captivity.”

“The government has been giving assurances based on the reports from the International Society of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent in Iraq but there is no clear confirmation on either the location or safety of the Indians,” said Aman, whose brother Raman is one of the abducted Indians.

The desperation is growing as family members are trying to hold on to the last straws of hope.

“My nephew, Vidhun Bhushan Tiwari, was to return from Iraq in August this year after a gap of three years. He has a family with two young children and we cannot go back until we get some positive news from the government,” says Ravinder Kumar, from Bihar.

He is joined by Chander Mohan Rai, also from Bihar, whose son Santosh Kumar Singh is among those abducted. “My son’s name has come up in the list as shared by the MEA and we are hoping they will be tracked in a day or two.”

A month is a long time and these families have been living on hope and they hope that the Union government would help them reunite with their kin. While the government has assured them of all help, hope is now beginning to run a little thin.


Image: School students pray for the Indian citizens kidnapped in Iraq, at a school in Ahmedabad.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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