Iraq Says it Has no Info on 39 Missing Indians, Their Families Demand Answers
Iraqi Ambassador to India, Fakhri Al-Issa said he did not know anything about their whereabouts, but hoped they are alive.
In this June 19, 2014, file photo, relatives hold up photographs of workers, who had been kidnapped in Iraq. Thirty-nine Indian construction workers were kidnapped in Iraq's second largest city of Mosul. (Photo: Reuters)
Chandigarh: The hope of the family members of the 39 Indians, who had gone missing in Iraq three years ago, has once again turned to despair, with the Iraqi Ambassador to India, Fakhri Al-Issa, confirming to News18 that he does not have any information about their whereabouts.
“I cannot confirm anything but let's hope that they are still there, alive. Not only 39 Indians, thousands of Iraqi nationals are missing. ISIS may be using them as hostages or slave labours,” he said.
In the last three years, these families have met government officials over 12 times. In their recent meeting with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, they were assured that the government is keeping tabs and were told that the missing were detained in a prison in Badush, a village in northern Iraq.
“We are back where we were just a few days after my brother went missing. The government did not have anything to tell us then and it does not have anything to tell us now. Three years of assurances have come to nothing,” says Gurpinder Kaur, a teacher at a school in Dasuya that lies in Punjab’s NRI heartland - the Doaba region.
“What right does anyone have of withholding information of our loved ones? If they have proof of our family members being alive, how can they not share even a shred of that proof over the last few years? Don't we deserve to see anything that indicates that my brother is still alive?” asks a frustrated and helpless Gurpinder.
Her younger brother Manjinder has been missing along with 38 others since July 15, 2014. It has been a long wait of three years where the Government has constantly been asking the family members not to worry as they are in touch with sources who have given trustworthy intelligence on the whereabouts of the workers.
“It is possible that they may have been moved out of Mosul, or may be to Syria to use them as human shields. We have heard that they were kidnapped in Mosul and taken hostage. My government is doing it best in locating these 39 Indians and Iraq is cooperating with Indian security agencies. They are either in Iraq or Syria,” said Al-Issa.
However, patience is now running thin and their belief in the government’s claims that their exact location is known has almost disappeared.
On June 8, Member of Parliament from Punjab, Harsimrat Badal, who had accompanied the families to meet Swaraj, had said, “The external affairs minister has been seeking any and every information that she could get on the missing persons in Iraq. There is an informer there who has been giving them constant information on the situation. He has given in writing the exact location of the workers saying he has seen around 25 Indians in Mosul.”
When Minister of state for External Affairs VK Singh left for Iraq last month, the family members were expectant that with the exact location known and Mosul now freed, it would just be a matter of time before their loved ones would fly home. It was not to be. While General VK Singh came back, the missing Indians did not.
Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, a Punjab politician who has been taking up cases of missing Indians in foreign countries, had also said earlier that he is 99 per cent, if not 100 per cent, sure that these missing people are alive and safe.
“A reliable source has confirmed the name of a church in Mosul city where he says he has seen 25 Punjabi looking men. Maybe all 39 were there but they might have altered their appearance in a Muslim area and grown beards, which made them unrecognisable. Map locations were given to Iraqi forces to make sure those areas were not targeted in the battle for Mosul,” he said.
Despite claims of exact map locations and the probability of the Indians being in a church, when VK Singh went to Iraq recently, there was no visit to the Church in question. “I was shocked when I was informed that despite Gen VK Singh being in Mosul area, no visit to the church was done to ascertain the claims that our relatives were there,” says Gurpinder.
Minister of State for External Affairs Gen VK Singh had earlier said he had returned after a visit to Iraq and added that it can be said they have the most concrete evidence to date on the whereabouts of the missing Indian workers. He said the National Security Advisor of Iraq has said the Indians could be either in Badush Jail or in Rakka Jail where they have also got information of the presence of Indians. “We can reach Badush jail only after Mosul gets completely freed. It can take one to two months,” said Gen VK Singh.
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