Air India on Sunday kept three planes on standby for evacuation of Indian nationals in strife-torn Iraq even as the Government reviewed the situation in the region at a high-level meeting after which it said the 39 abducted Indians were safe.
The government also said that it was in touch with the 46 Indian nurses stranded in the militant stronghold of Tikrit and that they were unharmed.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj chaired a meeting of Indian envoys to the Gulf countries to chalk out future strategy for safety and evacuation of nationals in Iraq. There are an estimated 10,000 Indian nationals in that country.
The Spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs said there were around 150 Indians in the zone of conflict and about 50 of them have left. "As of now in the zone of conflict, they are less than 100," the spokesperson said.
The Government also decided to transfer part of welfare funds in the Indian missions in Gulf countries to its embassy in Baghdad to be used for helping Indians to facilitate the departure of its nationals.
Official sources said three Air India planes are on standby and ready to leave for Iraq at short notice to bring back the nationals. The state-owned airline is fully geared for the evacuation drill, the sources added.
The family members of the kidnapped Indian nationals also met Swaraj who assured them that the government was taking all steps for the safety and evacuation of their kith and kin.
Asked about the safety of Indians abducted by the rebels in the region, the MEA spokesperson said, "I have no reports since last evening. The last evening report I have communicated to you..that they remain unharmed...they are in captivity...we have got some leads on them. ...We are working on the lead that were provided yesterday."
He said the Indian nurses in Tikrit "remain concerned because of noises and fighting are going on in surrounding area but as of now they remain safe. We are in contact with them," he said.
"My understanding ...as of now is that we have been in touch with the nurses just a few hours ago. Also they remain unhurt. Their hospital has not been intruded upon," he added.
The spokesperson said the government was in touch with the Indian nationals in Iraq. "At this stage ...we are working with them and their companies as well as those agents who have sent them come here to Iraq to bring them back by commercial flights.
This initial phase will begin by tomorrow or latest by flight availability. This is a national endeavour," the spokesperson added.