Why Indian nurses want to go back to Iraq

Nurse Sonia Jomon Sonia Jomon is worried about how she is going to repay a loan she has taken to fund her education

Forty-six Indian nurses are stranded in a hospital in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, which is under militant control, and many of the nurses have said they want to return to India as soon as possible.

But two other nurses, who returned home on holiday from Iraq just before trouble broke out there last week, have told the BBC that they want to go back.

"We are very tense about the situation in Iraq but I want to go back to work there," said Sindhu, who is in the southern Indian state of Kerala, on leave from the hospital in the southern Iraqi town of Nasiriya.

The 28-year-old returned home on 10 June - a day before the militant Sunni group ISIS began over-running northern and central Iraqi towns and cities.

Her return ticket is booked for 26 June, but India has issued a travel advisory telling its citizens to not travel to Iraq - and those already there to leave.

Sindhu is aware that the situation is grim in Iraq, particularly after news came in that 40 Indian construction workers had been kidnapped in the city of Mosul.

But, if she doesn't go, she is worried about defaulting on "huge loans" that she has taken to finance her education and to pay a recruitment agent to find her a job in Iraq.

"My friends in Nasiriya telephone me daily and say that I should return because there is no problem there. I cannot make up my mind. We are all tense. I paid 150,000 rupees ($2,500; £1,470) to the recruitment agency to get this job,'' she said.

"My mother has a kidney problem. She needs to undergo dialysis thrice a week. My father is a small farmer who took loans from his friends to fund my education and pay the recruitment agent. Some friends charged interest, some didn't. I still need to repay the loans," she says.

Low salaries

Before leaving for Iraq, Sindhu worked as a nurse in Delhi where she earned a monthly salary of 11,000 rupees ($183; £108). In Nasiriya, she earns $850.

She cannot work elsewhere in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Qatar because she has a diploma in nursing, not a degree - a prerequisite in those countries.

"I really don't know what to do," she says.

Iraqi Revolution, a group supporting the al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Wednesday, June 11, 2014, shows a militant in Tikrit, Iraq Fighters from militant Sunni groups have seized a number of Iraqi towns and cities, including Tikrit, in the past week

Her friend Sonia Jomon - also on holiday from her nursing job in Iraq - is worried about how she is going to repay a loan she has taken to fund her education.

"I have cleared the loan I took to pay the recruitment agency, but I don't know how I can clear my education loan with the salaries that are paid in India," she says.

However, Sonia is prepared to wait "until the problem is sorted out in Iraq. I want to work there because I like working there".

Many of the nurses who are stranded in Tikrit are also faced with the dilemma of whether to return to India or stay put in Iraq.

Many have borrowed money back home and say they are able to pay it back because of the higher salaries they get in Iraq.

Some have appealed to the Kerala government to waive their loans so that they can return to the safety of their homes from a country in a state of war.

But Sindhu says she cannot even ask the government for help because her loans are borrowed from friends and there is little paperwork.

"I cannot even hope to get that even if the Kerala government decides to clear the loans. I have not borrowed from the bank so what can I show to the government?''

Minister for Overseas Keralites KC Joseph says that right now, "our priority is to ensure the safe return of all people from Kerala from the troublespots. The loan issue is a secondary one at the moment".

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