Punjab families pray for Iraq hostages

Chandigarh, June 20 :

Scores of families and relatives of men from Punjab who have been held hostage or are stuck in strife-torn Iraq are offering prayers and reaching out to officials and ministers to ensure the safe return of their loved ones.

At least 40 Indian construction workers, mostly from Punjab, have been abducted by Sunni insurgents from Iraq’s Mosul town.

(source: ndtv.com)
(source: ndtv.com)

The Punjab government has confirmed the names of 78 men from the state who are stuck in Iraq.

The ministry of external affairs Thursday said the “40 (abducted) men were safe” and efforts were being made to get them released and ensure their safe return.

While the parents and families of some of the men stuck in Iraq met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj Thursday along with Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, others were offering prayers at Harmandar Sahib, popularly known as Golden Temple, in Amritsar and other shrines.

“We just want our son and others to return safely. We will not send them again,” the distraught family of Dharminder Singh of Gurdaspur district, who is in Iraq, said after offering prayers at the Golden Temple.

Majority of the men from Punjab who are stuck in Iraq are from the Doaba belt of Punjab – the region between Sutlej and Beas rivers, comprising districts of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala. Over 20 men are from Jalandhar alone.

Majority of those abducted from Mosul also belong to Jalandhar.

The Punjab government has acknowledged that out of the list of 78 men from Punjab in Iraq, many have been abducted or are missing.

The state government, which has set up a control centre for the Iraq issue, has received calls from families whose loved ones are in Iraq.

“I don’t want your money. I only want you back,” said the mother of Gagandeep Singh, who lives in Iraq’s Najaf city.

Most of the families said the youth had been sent to Iraq by unscrupulous travel agents who promised them greener pastures in United Arab Emirates and other countries in the middle-east but dumped them in Iraq.

Most of the youth have been in Iraq from time period ranging from a few months to up to three years.

Family members said they had been in touch with the youth in Iraq till earlier this week over telephone. Some families received text messages from the construction company in Iraq claiming that the youth were safe.

Sushma Swaraj said the 40 Indian workers abducted in Iraq were safe. She told their distraught families that the “very best” efforts are going on to have them freed.

“I am personally mulling over all options. The government is making all efforts. We are not leaving any stone unturned,” Sushma Swaraj told reporters in New Delhi.

“The 40 men are safe… When the situation normalises, we will try to get them released,” she told the delegation of worried families that was accompanied by Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.

She said the men, who worked for a Turkish construction company and were mostly from Punjab, are being held in a government building.

The youth from Punjab are mostly drivers, sanitary workers and construction labourers in Mosul, which has been taken over by militants in Iraq.


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