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In the first week of August, Riad Kamel Abbas, Syria’s Ambassador to India revealed that the country doesn’t have any information about the 39 Indians who went missing in Iraq in 2014.
He said they are “keen” to send the missing persons back to India if they are found. “The Indian delegation went to Syria many times and the chief of Syrian intelligence agency came to Delhi for it,” the envoy told PTI. Here’s what we know about the case of Indian men missing in Syria.
Indians Fleeing Iraq
In 2014, as the Islamic State advanced into Mosul, thousands of Indians fled Iraq. In June 2014, Indian officials in Baghdad said that they had lost contact with 40 Indian construction workers in Mosul who they believed to have been abducted by the IS, reported The Hindu.
These were a group of workers from Punjab who were working on a government construction project in Mosul. According to multiple reports and little that is known about them in media, ‘after the IS started taking over Mosul, the group of Indians tried to flee the city and traveled towards Baghdad. It is then the IS militants are expected to have taken them to unknown location.’
One Captured Worker Returns
One of the abductees, Harjit Masih managed to flee when IS released more than 50 Bangladeshi workers. He said that the other 39 men were executed by the militants after they were captured. But the government dismissed his claims with Sushma Swaraj claiming to have six sources confirming that they were alive.
Seeking Assistance from Arab Leaders
In 2016, during the first Ministerial-level meeting of the ‘India-Arab League Cooperation Forum’ held in Manama Bahrain, Swaraj raised the matter with the Foreign Ministers in the Gulf cooperation Council countries as well as the Arab League countries. The issue was acknowledged and became a part of the the Joint Declaration issued at conclusion of the meeting, Swaraj said in a reply to a question tabled in Rajya Sabha.
A Camp Setup in Iraq
The MEA also set up a camp office in Erbil, Iraq which in March 2016 was turned into Consulate General in where a senior official was placed to coordinate the efforts with the host government.
To seek the assistance of the leaders, Minister of State, Shri M.J. Akbar travelled to Iraq along, Lebanon and Syria. Following which senior officials in the Ministry of External Affairs also visited Erbil to trace the workers in June 2017.
Gen. V.K Singh Visits Iraq
After the liberation of Mosul from ISIS on 9th July 2017, Minister of State for External Affairs, General V.K. Singh visited Iraq from to request the leaders to take all possible measures to locate the missing Indians.
Recently when the External Affairs Minister was assured full cooperation when Iraqi Foreign Minister visited New Delhi on 24 July 2017 in New Delhi.
Disappointment with the Efforts
Last month Congress said that External Affairs Ministry led by Sushma Swaraj has failed to bring back the 39 Indians abducted by IS.
The families of the missing Indians say they feel betrayed by the government.
“The government has kept us in the dark for the last three years. After hearing the statement of the external affairs minister today, we have concluded that the government does not have any concrete information about the missing Indians in Iraq. They have completely failed to trace our family members,” said Sarwan, a relative of one of the missing men told Rediff.com.
Swaraj refuses to Declare them Dead
While, MEA continues to probe into the matter and denies that the missing workers are dead. While addressing the Lok Sabha recently External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said, “I will not commit the sin” of declaring them dead without any evidence.