By Callum Paton
Tunis, 28 October 2014:
It is reported that Indian medical professionals are being forced to work against their will in Benghazi’s . . .[restrict]Hawari Hospital as they treat combatants from Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC.)
Indian diplomatic sources have told the Libya Herald that they became concerned about the wellbeing of Indian nationals at the hospital after two nurses, a husband and wife identified as P.T. Pramoj and P. Joshi, contacted family in India to alert them to conditions at Hawari.
“We came to know that they want to go back to India; they may have been asked to work against their will,” the diplomatic sources said.
The Indian press has reported that the two nurses are being held hostage by ISIS militants. However the Indian embassy is not treating the situation as a straightforward kidnapping. “They are not being held hostage in the true sense of the word,” the diplomatic sources said.
The Indian daily The Hindu reported that Pramoj and Joshi had been working in Benghazi for eight months. Pramoj’s cousin, R. Gopinath told the newspaper that he had been contacted three times by the couple after the mobile phones of other members of staff were seized. “Pramoj and his colleague managed to hide their phones and were communicating with us over phone and a mobile-based chat application,” Gopinath was quoted as saying.
Pramoj sent pictures of damage caused when combatants fired on the hospital and also of gunmen marching near Hawari. “He was confident that he would somehow be saved but on Sunday night he was frightened and lost hope,” Gopinath said.
Hawari hospital has been under the control of Ansar Al-Sharia for months. The Islamist group is not known to have direct links to ISIS also known as Islamic State, although its members in Derna have pledged allegiance to it. The medical centre has reportedly been closed for the last two of days but it is thought that BRSC combatants are still being treated there.
There seems to be little that Indian authorities can do for the doctors at the hospital as they have no presence on the ground in Benghazi. Over the last five months around 3,000 of the 6,000 Indian nationals living in Libya have left the country. Many of them were health workers.
The Indian embassy in Tripoli has requested that all remaining Indian citizens in Libya leave the country and has said that all those who remain are doing so against their advice, after travel warnings were upgraded some five moths ago.