Indians held captive in Iraq still alive, says Sushma Swaraj

New Delhi: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that Indians held as captives by terrorists in Iraq are alive and assured that the government is making all efforts to bring them back.

About 40 Indians from Punjab are believed to be held as captives in Iraq since last year. One of them who claimed to have escaped from there had earlier made a claim that the others might have been killed.

During the Question Hour in the Lok Sabha, Swaraj said that if they were stranded, the government would have brought them long back but they are in the captivity of terrorists. “I completely don’t believe that those people are dead … If we believed that boy’s version then I would have told this House that all are dead. But we don’t believe the boy’s claim and that is why we are searching for the people,” she said.

Referring to a recent meeting in which foreign ministers from Arab countries and 15 ministers participated, Swaraj said the heads of two major nations told me that the Indians were alive. The Minister came in for praise from some members in the House for the handling of problems faced by Indians abroad, including rescuing them and ensuring their return home.

BJD and AAP members appreciated Swaraj for her efforts, with BJD Baijayant Panda saying the response from the Ministry has been “outstanding” and there has been a dramatic improvement in this regard. Meanwhile, Swaraj said there has been no “big exodus” of Indians from foreign countries in the wake of steep fall in crude oil prices which has adversely affected job prospects. She was responding to a query on what action the government plans to take as many companies overseas were sending back Indians amid decline in oil prices, a matter of concern to Kerala that has a large number of NRIs. This is a future problem and the government is aware about it, Swaraj said.

Emphasising that welfare of Indians living abroad was a priority for the government, Swaraj said it is working from all sides to address problems faced by them. Whenever such problems are brought to her notice, “I look at it personally and in case of emergency situations, we try to address the issue within 24 hours”, she said.

In such situations, “I don’t look at a person’s language, state or religion. For me, they all are Indians,” Swaraj said while expressing confidence that such problems would be resolved completely. Besides thumping of desks by members from Treasury benches, BJD’s Baijayant Panda and AAP members Dharamvir Gandhi and Bhagwant Mann appreciated the Minister for helping Indians facing difficulties in foreign countries. The AAP members thanked her for taking speedy action in ensuring the rescue and return of around 19 people, hailing from Punjab, from Saudi Arabia.

Opposition members, including those from the Left, were seen thumping benches. In response, Swaraj said she thanked them for thanking her. Speaker Sumitra Mahajan too was heard saying that it was the Minister’s day today.

Expelled RJD member Rajesh Ranjan appreciated Swaraj for replying to questions in Hindi. Mahajan remarked that his wife and Congress MP Ranjita Ranjan would give her bike to the Minister, leaving members in a peal of laughter. Ranjita Ranjan had ridden a motorbike to Parliament yesterday on the occasion ofInternational Women’s Day.