Indians caught in war-torn Libya
Perils of working in a war-torn land
There are Indians all over West Asia. They go there to earn a living. In the process, they augment the local economy’s yawning demand for skilled and semi-skilled workers. In fields such as trading, healthcare, education, engineering, banking, oil refining etc., Indian manpower plugs the crucial skill gap at relatively low cost, but with high efficiency. No wonder, Indians are eagerly employed both in the government and non-government sectors. Indian economy gains immensely sizable homeward remittances of the toiling Indians swell the Forex reserve.
As it happens in most war-ravaged countries, overseas workers not having anything to do with the warring sides get caught in the cross-fire. As these people are defenseless, and enjoy namesake protection from local government, they are kidnapped, killed, or taken hostage for hefty financial ransoms. The trauma of the kidnapped victims, often women, is insufferable. For their near and dear ones back home, the angst and the frustration defy description.
A few days back, four teachers from India have been kidnapped in Libya – a country that has remained mired in violence after the fall of Gaddafi. India, mainly because of the large diaspora in West Asia suffers the most as violence mounts. Trigger-happy marauding militants find them as sitting ducks. Canny kidnappers find these young and earning people good targets for extortion. Thousands of Indians who were in countries such as From Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen, the government had to extricate hundreds and thousands of its citizens at considerable risk and expense. Some opted to stay behind hoping to wait out the turbulence. For some of them, fate takes a very cruel turn. Either they lose their lives or the entire savings of their life. The extortionists get their bonanza, and get emboldened to attempt more such acts.
Sirte, in Libya, has turned out to be a deadly trap for a couple of hapless Indians. The three abducted teachers earned a living there imparting education to hundreds of Libyans. Now, they stare at death, torture and extortion. India, with so many of its citizens caught in the cauldron of internecine warfare, needs to ratchet up its diplomatic machinery to keep its citizens out of the harm’s way. Diplomats in the area have to cultivate contacts with the warring groups notwithstanding their hideous agenda.
Libya is a country deep in quagmire of tribal conflicts. The anti-Gadaffi forces have splintered, parted ways, and now busy pillaging their own country for the spoils of war. The Salafists, the most orthodox among them, have made unification a very remote possibility. The political landscape is riven with old tribal rivalries. With central authority all but disappeared, Libya has become a nightmare for effective diplomacy.
Despite such formidable challenges, India should not shirk away from its responsibilities. For diplomats, it presents a opportunity to attempt innovative ways to maintain communication channels with the lawless warring groups.
Organizing mass evacuations has not been difficult for India, but extricating the hostages has not been easy. Quite creditably, some 100 nurses taken hostage by Islamic State in Iraq last year. Sadly however, 39 other Indians abducted in June 2014 from Mosul is still remain untraced. In Sirte, two teachers have since been freed, but two others are still held by their captors.
India cannot adopt a laid-back policy with regard to its citizens facing death-like situations in war-torn West Asia. India must try its best to end the trauma of its trapped citizens. Contingency plans, out-of-the-box ideas and innovative diplomacy should be deployed to ensure safety of the citizens. The citizens must be given updates about the dynamic political and military situation. The endangered citizens must be encouraged to return home rather than continue to work in the fraught, pock-marked terrain like Sirte and Mosul.