19 Punjabis return from Iraq, no word on hostages



Although 19 Punjabis returned to India by a special flight Tuesday, there is still no word on the whereabouts of another 40 Punjabi men taken hostage by militants in conflict-torn Iraq, officials said.

The 19 men were received at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi by Punjab Chief Secretary Sarvesh Kaushal and other officials.

A spokesperson from the Chief Minister's Office said the officials ensured smooth clearance at immigration for the men returning from Iraq as they were without proper documents.

"The officers have been deputed to ensure that none of the Punjabis who returned from Iraq face any sort of harassment at the hands of authorities, because majority of Indians returning from Iraq were not having valid documents and immigration papers," the spokesman said.

However, the Punjab government said it had no information on the whereabouts of 40 Punjabi men taken hostage in Iraq's Mosul town by militants June 11.

The state government has urged the external affairs ministry to ensure their safe and early return to India.

The spokesman said more Punjabis were expected to return Wednesday and two Punjab government officials have been deputed 24x7 at the airport to facilitate their return and immigration clearance.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has announced financial assistance of Rs.20,000 per month for the families of the 40 Punjabis in Mosul. - IANS