Forty-six Indian nurses working in Iraq have been forcibly removed from their hospital in the ISIS-occupied city of Tikrit, according to India’s Foreign Ministry. Militants previously said the medical staff must leave the country.
“In zones of conflict there is no free will, Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told reporters in Delhi. “This is a situation where lives are at stake. They did not go of their own free will, but they are unharmed. Our mission advised them to proceed where they are proceeding.”
The Indian staff were reportedly forced to board two buses, which then drove off to an undisclosed location. Akbaruddin said that five of the nurses received minor injuries from cut glass, though he denied they had been caught in an explosion.
The nurses had been stranded in the basement of Tikrit Teaching Hospital for nearly a fortnight after radical Islamists ISIS plowed through the country, and captured the hometown of former leader Saddam Hussein. The fighters, who aim to establish a Sunni caliphate that stretches from Baghdad to the Mediterranean, had been pressuring the foreigners to leave.
“We were politely resisting the militants’ moves,” Sona Joseph, one of the nurses, told The Hindustan Times on Thursday. “But now the tone of the bearded boys is different. We have no other option but to obey them.”
The nurses are among about 10,000 Indian citizens working in Iraq, and they were receiving salaries of $750-$1,000 a month. The Indian government is now helping to evacuate other expatriates near danger zones throughout the country.