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Rediff.com  » News » Stranded nurses in Iraq hospital basement beg for help

Stranded nurses in Iraq hospital basement beg for help

July 02, 2014 14:12 IST

'We can only hear the sound of bombs and gun fire; we don't know what to do'

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Vicky Nanjappa reports on how Indian nurses working in the Iraqi city of Tikrit have moved to the basement of a hospital where they have been trapped following fresh violence. 

They haven’t seen sunlight for days. They haven’t dared to venture out. Trapped in the dusty, old basement of a hospital, the 46 Indian nurses only hear mind-boggling bomb explosions bursting every now and then.

For almost three weeks now, these 46 Indian nurses have been trapped inside the hospital where they were working while militants from the brutal Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fight it out with Iraq military officials.

They say they don’t know how to live in such a situation with little contact with the outside world. P Jose, father of Marina, who is one of the nurses trapped, said he hasn’t stopped watching television for the past one month. “We wait for the safe return of our daughter,” says Jose, adding that each day he and his wife pray for her wellbeing. “Around 15 days ago, when we spoke to her, she sounded very worried. She said it was only a matter of time before the communication lines were cut. All she could hear was heavy bombing and feared that she wasn’t safe.”

However, there is some good news for the families of the other nurses, as the Red Cross was able to visit the trapped nurses and re-charge their phones so that they could stay in touch with their loved ones in India.

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Image: The scene of a bomb attack in Iraq.
Photographs: Reuters

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'It is unfortunate my daughter who does a noble job has to live in such fear'

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The situation in Tikrit has worsened over the past few days after Iraqi forces began their counter-offensive trying to regain the territory, once the home of Saddam Hussein.

Marina told her parents over the phone that all of them had been asked to move into the basement of the hospital, as it was safer. “It is unfortunate that my daughter and the others who do such a noble job have to live in fear and like prisoners there,” added Jose.

The nurses, clammed into the basement, say they feel betrayed by the hospital’s management. “As soon as it became violent, management members fled the hospital. There are no Iraqis in the hospital. We have no idea what to do,” said Priyamol, another nurse trapped, adding that the missing management also leaves the stranded nurses in a quandary as they possess their official documents and papers.

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Image: Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province after they announced the formation of a new Islamist state.
Photographs: Reuters

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'While many want to return, some want to go to Baghdad and work there'

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But despite the fear of being stranded and the looming fear of death, many of the nurses don’t want to return to India owing to the financial burdens they shoulder. “The situation is tense. But we are hopeful that it will calm down,” added Priaymol to her father Bala who resides in Idukki.

“We have just been told to wait in the basement of the hospital, as it is not considered safe to be in the main part of the hospital. The sound of gun fire and bombs is all that we can hear,” she told her parents.

Priyamol added, “We were told by some members of the Red Cross that the Indian government is making arrangements to get us out. While many want to get back, some of us are still exploring options of going to Baghdad and work there.”

Home ministry sources say they are in constant touch with the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Society. Both have said that it would not be safe to move the Indians around in Iraq as of now. “We are trying to negotiate with the ISIS members and ensure that the Indians are allowed to move out," sources within the home ministry told Rediff.com.

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Image: Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces take their positions during clashes with the ISIS militants.
Photographs: Reuters

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'All I can do is pray and hope for the safe return of my daughter'

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The home ministry has also been told that some of the nurses are not willing to move out of Iraq, owing to the financial pressures. “Despite a bomb falling right outside the hospital premises two days ago, they remain unnerved. Several of them have the burden of paying off loans. They want to wait a while longer, take stock of the situation before they take any decision,” added the home ministry source, saying that of the 46 nurses, 12 of them wanted to stay back in Iraq and also asked to be driven to Baghdad so that they could find work there.

The source went on to add, “At the moment, all we can say is that it is not safe to remain in Tikrit and all attempts are being made to ferry them out of there. All their financial problems will be looked into at a later stage, but for now, our intention is to move them out of there.”

Complaining about the slow action on the part of the Indian government, Marina’s father said, “We met with the officials in Kerala who told us that the Centre is doing all they can to get our daughters back. All I can do is pray and hope for the best. I have told my daughter not to worry about the money. Her biggest responsibility is towards her two-year-old daughter. We will manage the finances somehow, but all I want is the safe return of my daughter.”

Meanwhile, the Indian government is contemplating sending in a naval vessel to rescue the Indians from Iraq, including the nurses. However, the government will tread carefully.

 


Image: A man walks past cars, which have been reduced to debris owing to the terror activities of the Sunni rebels.
Photographs: Reuters

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