Friday, July 25, 2014
They were fasting for Ramzan, but gave us food, A Nurse's Iraq Diary
(Neenu Jose, 24, is among the nurses from Kerala who was held hostage in Iraq by ISIS. She returned home to Idukki on July 5th.)
I left for Iraq on February 17, 2014.
I had paid Rs 1.6 Lakh to an agency in Delhi that promised a job in Iraq. I went to Delhi for an interview that was conducted by The Health Ministry of Iraq and was sent to Baghdad - there were 15 of us. Here we met an official from the Ministry of Health and he sent us to different hospitals. I was sent to Tikrit Teaching Hospital and was promised a salary of 750 dollars a month. It was all calm and peaceful in February, March, April and May but we didn't get our salaries..according to government policy, we were entitled to it only after three months.
We stayed at the hospital. On June 13, we were just sitting around when we heard a bomb blast and sounds of gun shots. We couldn't see anything. The Iraqi staff said that they were going to leave. They all left the hospital and it was just Indians left behind - about 46 of us.
After about two days, i.e. on June 15, five ISIS militants came to the hospital and said that we were now under their control. They had masks on and were armed. They said that we could either stay back and work under their control or return to India. They promised to give us food and salary and to not harm us. They were very polite and did not threaten us. They would often knock and ask us to tell them if we wanted anything.
We contacted the Indian Ambassador in Baghdad to say that some of us wanted to return to India and some didn't. 15 of us, including me, didn't want to return. We were told we would be shifted to Erbil or Baghdad but the roads were not clear, so we had to wait.
Five days later, the Red Cross came and gave us food and re-charge coupons. We were here for 20 days. There were sounds of gun fire and blasts every day. Our building would often shake. We spent our days praying.
One day, someone called us from the Health Ministry of Iraq to say there was a bomb inside the hospital. We were terrified and sat in the kitchen the whole night and just prayed. Later, they called to say that this was false information.
On June 28, they started fasting for Ramzan. But they gave us food. Rice and fish for lunch and rice and vegetables for dinner. We could phone our families - there was no restriction.
The militants never harmed us. They said we were like their sisters. Their only aim was to take control of the hospital.
On 3rd July, they said that they were going to shift us to Mosul since the hospital could be bombed anytime. We phoned the embassy and were advised to not go with them (since Mosul was not in their control). We said to the militants that we didn't want to go with them. But they were very firm and told us to get ready in five minutes. We told them that we wanted to go to Erbil, and not Mosul. They said "OK" and that they would send us to Erbil.
Then to threaten or scare us, they fired a few shots into the window and the wall behind us and asked us to board the bus in five minutes. Some of us were injured. We were terrified and rushed.
We boarded the bus and began our journey. We were 46 staff nurses now on the bus and two militants. The rest followed us in a car.
After about 30 minutes, the driver said that we were going to Mosul and not Erbil. We were shocked. We managed to send a text to the Indian Ambassador and he asked us to keep texting to him what we were seeing on signboards. Those of us at the back were using our phones to send messages because we were worried the militants would find out. At one point the driver actually asked all of us to switch off our phones but we didn't. After a few minutes he said that if our families were crying, we could speak to them for two minutes.
We started at 11:30 am and reached Mosul at 7:45 pm. We were taken into a building but couldn't see anything as it was too dark. They locked us in a room and said they would return in a couple of hours. There was no electricity and it was very dusty. They came back after about 30 minutes and gave us water and switched on the air-conditioning. At around 11:30 pm, they gave us food.
After dinner, they said that they were going to take us to Erbil the next day so we could be sent back to India.
In the morning, they came and said they wanted to video-tape us saying that they had not harmed us, had provided food etc. One of the nurses volunteered and they recorded this.
On July 4, we were taken to the Mosul border and handed over to officials from India embassy. From here, we were taken to Erbil airport and flown back to India on July 5.
I'm now back in India and need to repay loans (1.6 lakh as service charge to the placement agency). I would not like to go back to Iraq. I'll try and find a job here in Kerala.